Medical Procedures on a Parent

The beginning of Parshas Tazria includes references to parent-child relationships…

Question #1: My Daughter, the Surgeon

“I specifically want my daughter to perform my upcoming operation. Is this permitted?”

Question #2: My Son, the Medic

“May my son, a trained medic, give me my daily shot?”

Foreword

One of the many mitzvos mentioned in parshas Mishpatim is capital punishment for someone, male or female, who strikes his or her parent. As we all know, the aseres hadibros include a mitzvah of kibud av ve’eim, honoring parents, and the Torah also has another mitzvah of yiras av ve’eim, treating parents with awe (Vayikra 19:3). Obviously, the opposite extreme is someone who curses or strikes his parent. Yet, there are situations in which the parent wants the child to “wound” him because of the resultant benefit. For example, if the parent needs open heart surgery, and the child is the most qualified thoracic surgeon available, he would probably want him or her to perform the operation. (We are assuming, of course, that the “child surgeon” in this instance feels that he can make objective medical decisions.) Another situation is that the parent requires an injection and it is more convenient or less expensive to have the child, who is a nurse, physician or medic, administer the injection. Yet a third, common situation is when the child is a dentist and will provide free dental care to the parent, but this involves either a painkilling shot or causing the gums to bleed.

Introduction

Although the Torah states that someone who strikes his parent shall be put to death, we know that capital punishment is meted out only when:

(a) a beis din of 23,specially-ordained dayanim rule this way,

(b) the crime is witnessed by two halachically valid witnesses,

(c)  the defendant receives a clear warning prior to performing his criminal act,

(d) he acknowledges to have understood the warning, including the ramifications of its punishment, and

(e) he commits the crime immediately (Rambam, Hilchos Mamrim 5:5).

The potential capital punishment meted out by the Torah for striking a parent establishes this as a major sin, a significant factor relating to our opening questions (see Sanhedrin 84b).

Our first discussion will be about the passages in the Mishnah and in the Gemara, located in Sanhedrin 84-85, that discuss the halachic details of this prohibition. The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 85b) states that someone who strikes his father or mother is deemed punishable by the death penalty only when he draws blood. The poskim provide three instances to explain what this means:

(1) We see blood from the injury (Bava Kama 86a). Bear in mind that bleeding can be tiny, painless and insignificant; yet, that would be included in the Torah’s prohibition. Examples of causing bleeding would include injecting something directly into a vein or pressing against sensitive gums.

(2) An injury in which it is noticeable that there is bleeding under the skin, called colloquially a “black and blue mark.”

(3) An ear injury that causes deafness, which is an indication that the blow caused internal bleeding (Bava Kama 86a, 98a).

The Gemara (84b) states that the punishment for striking a parent does not exist if the wound was for a medical purpose, such as using a needle to remove a thorn, lancing a boil, or bloodletting.

Having ruled that it is permitted to cause therapeutic bleeding on a parent, the Gemara tells us that Rav did not allow his son to remove a thorn from him, nor did Mar berei de Ravina allow his son to drain a boil. The Gemara questions: why should a son performing this procedure on his father be any different from anyone else performing this procedure on his fellowman? There is a lo sa’aseh min haTorah to injure another Jew, but this action is permitted when it is beneficial. Upon this basis, we have blood tests, perform surgery and donate blood. What difference does it make whether the practitioner performs this service for his parent or for anyone else?

The Gemara answers that the concern is that if the person performing the procedure cuts more than is necessary, this is a negligent (shogeig) violation of the prohibition. We are more concerned about a child performing this act on his parent, since this involves a more serious violation than injuring a fellow Jew. Thus, we view with greater concern something for which the Torah prescribes a high level of punishment – and there is a difference in practical halacha that results from the greater degree of culpability.

Prohibited or suggested?

The rishonim note that Rav and Mar brei deRavina seem to disagree with the previous passage of the Gemara, which permits a child to perform a medical treatment on a parent, even when it causes bleeding. Are these amora’im, Rav and Mar berei deRavina, disputing the previous conclusion of the Gemara, or, perhaps, is there another way to explain the differences between the rulings? In fact, there are numerous approaches to answer this question, two of which figure prominently among the (see Beis Yosef and Bach, Yoreh Deah 241):

(A) Rav and Mar berei deRavina conclude that, although a child may carry out these medical acts when no alternative exists, he may not do so when someone else is available to perform them (Rambam, Hilchos Mamrim 5:7). However, when no one who can perform the treatment is available, the child may do so, and we are not concerned about a potential mishap. This approach is followed as definitive halacha by the Rema and others (Bach, Gra).

(B) Others conclude that, indeed, Rav and Mar brei deRavina disagree with the position of the Gemara, cited earlier, and rule that a child may not perform therapeutic activity that will cause bleeding on a parent. Since this is the last opinion mentioned in the passage of Gemara, it is accepted by these rishonim (Beis Yosef,in his understanding of the position of the Rif and Rosh). The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 241:3) rules that this is the halachic conclusion.

So, at this point, we see that the Shulchan Aruch, usually followed by Sefardim, rules that a therapeutic treatment that causes bleeding cannot be performed by a child, even when no one else is available. The Rema and other early Ashkenazic authorities permit a child to perform these treatments when no one else is available.

When is it considered that someone else is available? What is the halacha if the procedure can be performed by someone else, but the parent prefers that the child does it. For example, the child is a well-known heart surgeon, but the surgery is considered routine and any competent thoracic surgeon should be able to perform it successfully.

Similarly, if the child will charge his parent less than someone else will, is this permitted? Notwithstanding that cost is not usually a factor when we deal with violating Torah prohibitions, here, it may be a factor, because the parent, who wants the child to perform the activity, is not violating any prohibition of the Torah. Thus, if the parent wants the child to perform the procedure because it will now be gratis, many authorities consider this as if there is no one available other than the child (Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 241:6; Gesher Hachayim 2:1; Minchas Shelomoh 1:32)

My daughter, the surgeon

At this point, we can answer the first of our opening questions: “I specifically want my daughter to perform my upcoming operation. Is this permitted?”

The answer is that if your daughter is Ashkenazi, it is permitted, but if she is a Sefardiyah, it probably is not.

Mechilah

Does it make any halachic difference if the parent is mocheil the child in advance for any unintended injury? The Minchas Chinuch contends that had Rav and Mar berei deRavina stated that they were completely mocheil their sons, even if the result was an unintended injury, there would be no problem for the sons to perform the procedure. In the opinion of the Minchas Chinuch, the case of the Gemara is when Rav and Mar berei deRavina never declared that they were completely mocheil their sons, regardless of the result. Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach rules that this approach of the Minchas Chinuch should be given credence, at least as a tziruf, which means that we may use this as a heter, combined with other reasons to be lenient.

The Minchas Chinuch proposes a further novel suggestion germane to this prohibition. He contends that if a father asks a son to injure him, there is no prohibition on the son to do so. He understands this to be included in the rule that a parent is permitted to be mocheil on his honor. However, as is noted in Minchas Shelomoh (page 184 note 2), this last opinion of the Minchas Chinuch runs contrary to a ruling of the She’iltos of Rav Achai Gaon (She’ilta #60) wherein it states that, whereas a parent may be mocheil on kavod, as is done whenever a mother prepares meals for adult children, this does not permit striking, cursing or treating a parent with disdain, which is prohibited even if the parents grant permission.

Injection

At this point, let us discuss the second of our opening questions: “May my son, a trained medic, give me my daily shot?”

Most people would not be that concerned whom they entrust with giving them a shot, provided the individual is a medical professional with proper training. According to what we have explained until this point, it would seem that, according to all poskim, this should not be performed by a child for a parent.

However, there are some differences between this case and the situations discussed by the Gemara. Inoculations and most other shots are injected into a muscle, and should not cause any bleeding. Does this permit this action, even when another professional is available, or is it no different from therapeutic bloodletting or boil lancing that is permitted, even according to the Rema, only when no one else is available? Furthermoroe, if a medical professional will charge to give the shot, but the child will do it gratis, does this permit the child to perform it?

These two questions were discussed by Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky, a highly respected posek of old yishuv Yerushalayim, in his magnum opus, Gesher Hachayim (Volume II, Chapter 1). There, he mentions that he was asked a shaylah by an emergency medical technician whose mother required regular injections whether he could do them for her, something which would save both of them an appreciable amount of money. Since the Rema paskins that a physician should not perform bloodletting on his parent whenever there is another physician available who can, does that preclude a son from injecting his mother?

The Gesher Hachayim presents three reasons why he believes that it might be permitted:

(1) All the situations we have so far described involve causing bleeding for a therapeutic reason. The concern is the child might cause more bleeding than necessary. However, intramuscular shots do not usually cause any bleeding at all. Although they could cause bleeding, since, in most instances no bleeding occurs, we do not need to be concerned.

(2) To understand his second approach, I note the following: In the case of surgery, a surgeon decides where and how to make the incision. If the child surgeon uses a technique that causes more bleeding than is necessary, this might be considered a negligent violation of the Torah law.

Similarly, in the instances of bloodletting, the practitioner decides how much blood he needs to remove and, in the case of boil lancing, how he will lance the boil. There is ample room for a judgment error that will cause a greater amount of bleeding than the situation requires. On the other hand, the medic in our case of an injection is not deciding how much bleeding or cutting is necessary. Therefore, there are grounds to allow the son to provide this injection for his mother.

(3) The son’s willingness to work without charge is considered as if no one else is available. The logic is that Mom is not required to hire someone to give her the injection, when her son is willing to do so for free. After all, it is not her prohibition. Once she decides that she does not want to hire someone, no one is providing her with the necessary service, and the son is not required to hire someone to take his place.

Rav Tukachinsky then reports that after he thought of these three reasons to permit the son to inject his mom, he sent the shaylah to many rabbonim of Yerushalayim to see if they agreed with his conclusion. The three rabbonim who, indeed, answered him and agreed with him all dated their responsa, from which we see that this shaylah came up in the spring of 1944. The three rabbonim were:

(1)  Rav Yitzchak Halevi Herzog, a close, personal friend of Rav Tukachinsky, who was the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisroel at the time.

(2) Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, who was the rav of Yerushalayim.

(3) Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, at the time a very young, up-and-coming superstar in psak halacha. In addition to his reply published in Gesher Hachayim, a longer form of his reply is supplied in Minchas Shelomoh (#32).

Applying leaches

Rav Tukachinsky then discusses a similar, related question whether a child may apply leaches to a parent’s wound. Is this considered that the child is injuring the parent in a way that causes bleeding? Rav Tukachinsky was not convinced that this is permitted, but

Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach permitted it for two reasons: When applying leaches, the leaches do not begin to draw blood immediately, and therefore this is not equivalent to striking and drawing blood from a parent. Instead, it is an indirect action that would be exonerated from capital punishment. Once this action is no longer included under the Torah’s punishment, the prohibition to perform it on one’s parent is the same as on anyone else, and is permitted when done for therapeutic reasons.

Secondly, since the parent has the ability to pull off the leaches before they begin to suck blood, the child has not inflicted any injury (Minchas Shelomoh #32:4).

Conclusion

In conclusion to this article on the concepts of kibud horim, I would like to share a comment that I once responded to in an advice column: “My mother-in-law and I have an excellent, warm relationship. However, one area of conflict causes her anxiety and me irritation. The issue is attending the weddings of extended family members, which is very large (sic.) and there are many weddings. She claims that not attending the weddings of these family members, whom I hardly know, rebels against the family norm. I attend about two or three of these weddings every year, when it works out for my schedule, and I forgo the others so that I have more time for professional work, housework, family time and much-needed sleep. On the rare occasions that I attend, I don’t know most of the people there, and I don’t feel my presence appreciated enough for me to have killed a night. My mother-in-law agreed that I present this issue to the rav. Please advise.”

I answered her: You seem to be asking whether you are obligated to acquiesce to your mother-in-law’s request. In response, I’d like to start by briefly reviewing the halachos of kibud av va’em. You do have an obligation of kibud av va’em towards your husband’s parents, although not on the same level as your obligation towards your own parents or your husband. However, the mitzvah includes only two components – kibud and morahKibud encompasses ensuring that your in-laws have their physical needs met. This involves providing them with food if needed, bringing them a drink if requested, taking care of their medical needs if relevant, and so on. Morah requires you to show them respect by not contradicting them, not sitting in their set places etc.

In the situation you describe, I do not see how either kibud or morah come into play.   One can claim that, since your mother-in-law is insisting so strongly on this, there is an element of morah. However, that is only a result of her insisting so strongly that your refusal is rude.

If you are like most frum women today, between caring for a large household, supplementing the family income, and taking care of all your other responsibilities, you are juggling the equivalent of at least two full-time jobs.  It seems unfair for your mother-in-law to pile even more on your already overburdened shoulders. Women today are already far too stressed and need to spend more, not less, time with their nuclear families. Encroaching on that time for the sake of fairly distant relatives is not a wise move.




Passing the Taste Test

Question #1: Gentile Goulash

Can a non-Jew determine if the cholent or the goulash is kosher?

Question #2: Expert Witness

Does halacha recognize the concept of an “expert witness?”

Question #3: It Tastes Bad!

Does whether something tastes good or bad affect halacha?

Foreword:

This article will discuss what happens if a small amount of something non-kosher falls into kosher food. Because of the limitations inherent in writing articles, at times I will need to omit significant details. As a result, please do not use this as a source for any halachic ruling. Refer a personal question to a rav.

When non-kosher and kosher foods become mixed together, it is forbidden to eat the mixture. However, when the amount of the non-kosher item is so small that it cannot be tasted, the mixture is usually permitted, since the offending substance is considered nullified, bateil.

Note that I wrote “usually,” because there are exceptions to this rule, most of which will wait patiently for future articles. One instance in which the offending ingredient is not bateil is when someone deliberately attempted to nullify a forbidden product or mixture. In this instance, the resultant mixture is prohibited because of the principle of ein mevatlin issur lechatchila (Beitzah 4b), one may not deliberately nullify a prohibited substance.

Ta’am ke’ikur

Why is the ability to taste a prohibited substance the criterion to determine whether the mixture is permitted? This is because of a halachic principle called ta’am ke’ikur, the taste is like the actual substance.

Nosein ta’am lifgam

Even when the non-kosher ingredient can be tasted, at times the mixture is still permitted. This is when the non-kosher substance does not add positive taste into the food, but adds an unpleasant taste, even if it is only mildly unpleasant. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 67b) quotes a dispute between tanna’im whether nosein ta’am lifgam, literally, that which provides a bad taste, is prohibited or permitted. According to the opinion that nosein ta’am lifgam is permitted, should a non-kosher substance provide an unpleasant taste when added to food, the food remains kosher. The halacha follows the opinion that nosein ta’am lifgam is permitted.

We can then reach this conclusion regarding a mixture of non-kosher and kosher food:

(1) When the non-kosher food is the minority of the mixture, and

(2) the non-kosher food can no longer be identified, and

(3) the non-kosher food does not improve the taste,

then the mixture may be eaten. And, as mentioned above, this is true only when the bitul, the nullifying, was not performed intentionally.

24 hours

The halachic assumption is that residual taste that is present in a vessel or utensil from a previous cooking usually spoils after 24 hours have elapsed. This means that the flavor imparted from such equipment is no longer beneficial and therefore food cooked in it is permitted. In addition, because of a more complicated halachic principle and reasoning, even when we do not know for certain whether equipment was used in the previous 24 hours, we are permitted to assume that the product cooked in non-kosher equipment is kosher (see Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 35b s.v. Miklal). On this basis, although it is prohibited to use a non-kosher pot, food cooked in it with kosher ingredients usually remains kosher.

How do we know?

When a small amount of issur (prohibited food) got mixed with heter (permitted food), we need to know whether the issur is bateil and the food is therefore permitted, or whether it is not bateil and the food is prohibited. In general, there are two methods to ascertain that the food is bateil.

The taste test

A non-Jew tastes the mixture to ascertain whether he can detect taste of the non-kosher food (or the tiny percentage of milk in meat, or vice versa). He may also tell us that, although he can detect the non-kosher substance, what it adds to the mixture is distasteful. In this instance, the food is permitted, as explained above.

Must the non-Jew swallow the food that he is tasting? There is a dispute among later halachic authorities whether a taste test requires that the taster actually swallow the food, or whether it is sufficient that he chew the food thoroughly. The Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav, Yoreh Deah 98:2) rules that when tasting to check for an issur, the person must chew the food and swallow some of it, whereas the Yad Yehudah (98:2) is satisfied that chewing well is enough and even that is necessary only if it is a solid food. If it is a liquid, even tasting the food in his mouth and spitting it out afterward suffices.

Most poskim contend that the non-Jew should not know that his answer is deciding whether a product is kosher or not. Why? Some explain that the non-Jew may want to help the Jew and tell him that he cannot taste any prohibited substance, even when he is uncertain (Badei Hashulchan 98:8).

Another possibility is that someone who does not understand that it is a violation of what Hashem wants may bias what he says because of other motivations. Thus, we cannot rely on information provided unless (a) the person is halachically concerned about the prohibition involved, or (b) there is a compelling reason why the person would tell the truth, such as an expert chef who would not want to jeopardize his professional reputation.

Ratio

If we know how much of a non-kosher substance fell in, we can try to determine (by measuring) whether the percentage is large enough to be discerned. That is, if what fell in is less than one sixtieth of the permitted substance, the mixture is permitted.

Some rishonim require that, when possible, we must use both methods. In other words, the prohibited substance must be one part in sixty or less, and even then, if a non-Jew is available, we should have him taste the mixture to determine that the prohibited food cannot be tasted (Rashi, Chullin 98a s.v. Beshishim). Others rule that it is better to have a non-Jew taste the food and tell us that he cannot taste the non-kosher substance. If no non-Jew is available, we may permit the food if we know that the kosher food is at least sixty times the volume of the non-kosher (Rambam).

The Shulchan Aruch concludes, like the Rambam, that we use one part in sixty as a determinant only when there is no non-Jew present to taste the meat. In such a case, we calculate if the heter is sixty times the issur, in which case it is mutar.

There are instances in which we cannot use the taste test and will only be able to use the ratio method. For example, what do we do if a small amount of non-kosher meat fell into a cholent or goulash in which there is more kosher meat than the non-kosher that fell in? What are we going to ask the non-Jew to taste? Of course, he is going to taste meat, because there is plenty of kosher meat in the mixture, and there is no way to know by taste whether the non-kosher meat can be tasted. In such situations, we will be forced to use the ratio method to determine whether the food is kosher (see Yorah Deah 98:2).

Chaticha na’asah neveilah

Here is another instance in which we will not be able to rely on taste to rule that something is permitted. A small amount of meat fell into a pot containing dairy. Afterward, another ingredient, that is neither meat nor dairy, was added to the pot. The problem in this instance is that, when the meat fell into the dairy, if the pot did not contain enough to make the meat bateil, all the milk and meat in that pot became prohibited as basar bechalav. Adding more to the pot will not help, nor will tasting the food afterward to discern that the meat cannot be tasted, since the dairy already became prohibited min haTorah. To permit the food (and the pot) we will need to determine how much was in the pot when the meat fell in originally; tasting it now will not help make that determination.

This concept is called chaticha na’asah neveilah, which means that once something absorbed a prohibited substance, we must treat the entirety as prohibited. This concept has ramifications for many other halachos, but space considerations will require us to leave the topic for a future article.

Why sixty to one?

Why is a prohibited substance usually bateil when there is sixty times its volume of heter in the mixture? The reason is because Chazal calculated that most prohibited foods will not be tasted when they are in the food at this small percentage. However, this calculation is not absolute. There are several prohibitions in which Chazal required a larger percentage, because they wanted us to be more stringent regarding these, more serious issurim. There is also the instance of a food that is avida leta’ama, meaning that it is a spice or other flavoring agent. Since these foods can be tasted even when in very tiny amounts, they remain prohibited even when there ar only very small amounts in the food.

Returning to the taste test

Exactly whose opinion do we need that the non-kosher cannot be tasted? Can we use any non-Jew to perform the taste test, or does it require an expert chef? Some contend that an expert chef is needed because we do not assume that the average person is so discerning (see Rashba). Others require an expert chef for a different reason: since he has his well-earned professional reputation at stake, he can be trusted to tell us the truth and not what he thinks we want to hear.

The Rambam and those who follow his approach do not require that the “taste tester” be an expert. They contend that we may rely on any non-Jew who tastes the food and tells us that he cannot discern the non-kosher ingredient in themixture. Among those who accept any non-Jewish taster, some contend that we can rely on him only when he does not know why we are asking him, whereas others are not concerned about this.

In general, halacha accepts that only someone affected by a situation pays attention to its details. For this reason, someone who witnessed something and did not realize the significance of what he was seeing cannot be relied upon for his opinion as to what happened. Thus, in general, it would seem that we should not rely on a non-Jew telling us whether he discerned the non-kosher product or not, if he is unaware of the reason we are asking.

There are some possible exceptions to this rule. One is when the individual has a professional reputation to protect. Someone in this situation is very concerned not to ruin his well-earned reputation, and will always be careful to render a correct answer to the best of his ability. Therefore, we accept his opinion to be true.

Others explain that we may ask a non-Jew whether he tastes the non-kosher when he knows that we are immediately going to see if he is right. Although it may not be his uppermost concern to provide us with accurate information, knowing that we will check immediately on his reliability will cause him to be more concerned to provide accurate information (Shach, Yorah Deah 98:2; Pri Chadash; based on Shu”t Harivash #433).

This approach is recommended by the Gemara and this is the approach followed by Sefardim as ruled in the Shulchan Aruch (Yorah Deah 98:1), who accepts any non-Jew’s opinion if he does not know that we are relying on him.

However, the custom developed among Ashkenazim not to rely on a non-Jew tasting the food. Why would Ashkenazim ignore the approach recommended by the Gemara? Did we decide to become frummer than the authors of the Gemara?

G-d forbid! There is much discussion among the later authorities why Ashkenazim follow this approach. One reason suggested is that, if we study the various explanations provided by the rishonim, we will realize that they are mutually exclusive. In other words, some hold that we can accept the non-Jew’s opinion only when he knows why we want the information, whereas others assume the exact opposite – that he is trusted only when he has no idea why we want the information. Since it is impossible to accommodate all the opinions, the custom is to be stringent and not use this approach. (This answer is provided by Rabbi Akiva Eiger in his glosses to Yorah Deah 98:1, but the Gra and Rav Shelomoh of Vilna, in their respective glosses, disagree.)

Avida leta’ama

Above, we noted that a non-kosher spice or seasoning is not usually bateil because it can still be tasted in the finished product. Thus, the ratio of sixty parts heter to one part issur will not permit this product. However, can you have a non-Jew try it to see if he can taste the issur? Certainly according to Sefardic practice, this is permitted. But can an Ashkenazi use a non-Jew to taste whether the avida leta’ama ingredient can still be tasted?

The Shach (Yorah Deah 98:29), an Ashkenazi who follows the Rema, rules that, when the question is whether you can taste an avida leta’ama, you may rely on a non-Jew. This ruling is accepted by Rav Shelomoh Eiger (in his notes on Rema, Yorah Deah 98:1); but there are those who disagree.

A Jewish taster

The Rema writes that “nowadays we do not rely on the tasting of a non-Jew” (Yorah Deah 98:1). This implies that if a Jew tastes a mixture and tells you that the “prohibited substance” cannot be discerned, you may rely on him (Shach). Most, but not all, authorities accept that we can rely on a Jewish taster (cf. Levush, who disagrees and concludes that Ashkenazim never rely on tasting).

Obviously, in the cases that we have been discussing, no halachically abiding Jew could taste the food, and a Jew who is not halachically abiding cannot be relied upon. Thus, when does this ruling apply?

There are numerous cases in which it might be relevant to have a Jewish person taste the mixture:

(1) If some terumah of one type of fruit or vegetable falls into a different species of non-terumah that is cooking, we may have a kohen taste it, since he is permitted to eat terumah. If he tells us that he cannot taste the species that is terumah, then a non-kohen may eat it. The same halacha is relevant to a case where the dough separated as challah became mixed into a product. (These cases are assuming that we are in a time and place when kohanim eat terumah and challah.)

(2) An individual made an oath or a vow prohibiting himself from eating a certain food. Subsequently, that food gets mixed into other food. Another Jew, who is not included in the oath or vow, may taste the mixture and ascertain that the prohibited food is not discernible.

(3) An onion was cut with a meat knife, and someone tasted the onion and contends that it has no fleishig taste. May someone now eat this onion with dairy? This application can be applied to any similar case where we want to verify if pareve food has a meat or dairy taste.

(4) A non-kosher substance fell into a kosher food and we do not know whether the kosher substance was sixty times the non-kosher. A non-Jew, who does not know why we are asking his opinion, tastes the food and tells us that the non-kosher substance cannot be discerned. At this point, a fully halachically observant Sefardi who heard the non-Jew’s ruling is permitted to rely on his pesak and taste the food. Upon tasting the food, the Sefardi notifies an Ashkenazi that indeed there is no taste of non-kosher in the food. According to the ruling of the Rema and the Shach, the Ashkenazi may now eat the food, relying on the tasting of a Jew.

All four of these cases are seemingly dependent on the dispute quoted above between the Levush and the Shach whether we rely on the tasting done by a Jew.

Conclusion

A well-known, non-Jewish criticism of Judaism is: “Does G-d care more about what goes into our mouths than He does about what comes out?” The criticism is, of course, both mistaken and conceited. Our development as avdei Hashem involves both what goes in and what comes out, and the height of vanity is to decide which is “more” important in His eyes. Being careful about what we eat and about what we say are vital steps in our growth as human beings.




The Confused Image of Glass

In common years, Parshas Tzav falls on Shabbos Hagadol, and the piyutim (and perhaps the drosha) of the day teach about kashering for Pesach. Although this year is a leap year and Shabbos Hagadol is a month from now…

Question #1: Tevilas keilim

Why is glass the only material other than metal for which Chazal required immersion?

Question #2: Non-Kosher

May I use a non-kosher drinking glass for a hot cup of tea?

Question #3: Chicken soup and milk

After serving chicken soup in a glass, may I pour hot milk into the same glass?

Question #4: Kashering for Pesach

How do I kasher my chometz-dik glasses for Pesach?

Introduction

Moshe Rabbeinu hid the Egyptian that he killed in the sand; for this reason, striking the earth to bring the makeh of kinnim needed to be performed by Aharon (Rashi, Shemos 8:12). Since the world has huge deposits of sand, mankind attempted to use it for useful items, eventually discovering that, by heating sand to a very high temperature, it can be made into glassware, which is the topic of this article.

There is no mention of glassware in the Torah, although there is one reference to glassware in Tanach, in the book of Iyov (28:17). Iyov declares, regarding wisdom, lo ya’archena zahav uzechuchis, “Gold and glass do not equal it,” meaning that the value of gold or glass comes nowhere near that of wisdom. From this passage we see that, at the time of Tanach, glass was considered an extremely expensive material. As we will see shortly, that glass became less costly with time has halachic ramifications.

Before discussing the halachos of glass, let us note some of its unique chemical and physical properties that affect its halachic status.

Recyclable

Glassware has many uses and can be very beautiful, but at the same time it is fragile and breakable. However, as opposed to pottery, which, when broken, is irreparable and virtually useless, broken glassware can be easily recycled. Glass can be melted down and reused over and over. In this respect, glass shares an important characteristic with metals, which are also recyclable by being melted down. For this reason, Chazal sometimes gave glassware the halachos of metals. For example, germane to the mitzvah of tevilas keilim, the Gemara rules that glass vessels must be toiveled before use, as indicated in the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b): Rav Ashi said, Glass utensils, since when broken they can be repaired, are like metal utensils.

Rav Ashi lived at the very end of the period of the Gemara. A much earlier statement of Chazal, in Avos deRabbi Nosson (Chapter 41), provides the following terse statement:

“Three things were said regarding glassware:

(1) It does not absorb; it does not impart.

(2) It shows whatever is inside.

(3) If you place it in a hot place, it becomes hot. If you place it in a cold place, it becomes cold.”

Avos deRabbi Nosson is not intended to be a scientific work, nor is it a handbook for manufacturers. It is similar to Pirkei Avos, although it contains much more aggaddic material, and so it would probably be best classified as an early midrash, similar to Midrash Tanchuma or Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, or to the much later midrashic collections like Midrash Rabbah or Yalkut Shimoni. So, why is it concerned with categorizing the qualities of glassware?

The answer to this question is that, although Avos deRabbi Nosson is not usually treated as a halachic midrash, in this instance, that is exactly what it is — providing halachic categorization with which to define the unique qualities of glass. By so doing, it provides a background with which to explain the halachos of glassware.

Does not absorb

Laboratory experiments use glass equipment because it does not absorb, nor does it impart or leach into what is heated or stored inside it. Therefore, it should not affect whatever chemical reaction or research for which it is being used. We will soon discuss the kashrus ramifications of this quality of glass, about which the Avos deRabbi Nosson was presumably concerned.

May be clear or opaque

We are accustomed to most glass being clear, but this is really a function of what other chemicals are in the sand from which the glass is made when it is fired. Even glass that is colored is usually transparent, which is one of the common qualities of glass and is highly uncommon in other materials.

This observation about glassware has much halachic ramification, although this distinction does not affect any “kitchen kashrus” issues. It does, however, have ramifications for the laws of tumah and taharah, which we will not disuss in this article because of space considerations.

It is a conductor

The third statement of the Avos deRabbi Nosson is that if you place glass in a hot place, it becomes hot, and if you place it in a cold place, it becomes cold. In other words, glass is a conductor and not a good insulator. The best insulator used today in the kitchen and in carryout shops is Styrofoam. But on the relative scale of things, glass is closer to metal in its ability to conduct heat.

Having used the Avos deRabbi Nosson as a means of explaining the unique properties of glass, we can now discuss the halachic questions that I raised at the beginning of our article.

Tevilas keilim

Our first question was: Why is glass the only material other than metal for which Chazal required immersion?

Allow me to explain. The laws of tumah and taharah germane to tools, equipment and vessels include many different types of materials. Items manufactured from metal, wood, cloth, horn, glass, and plants are all susceptible to tumah, as is food, pottery and boneware. Nonetheless, germane to the mitzvah of immersing utensils prior to food use, the requirement min haTorah  applies only to metal utensils, and not to utensils, pots or pans made of pottery, wood, cloth, bone, horn or any other materials. Therefore, there is no requirement to toivel a wooden spoon, a ceramic dish, cheesecloth used for food (after all, it is called cheesecloth, and not laundry cloth, for a good reason), or flatware chiseled out of horn or bone. However, why is there a requirement to toivel glass bowls and cups?

Based on the Gemara that we quoted above, we can answer this question: Broken glass utensils can be recycled for new manufacture, just as you can recycle broken metal utensils. Since glass shares this quality with metal, Chazal instituted that glass be treated like metalware, germane to the mitzvah of toiveling food-preparatory vessels prior to using them.

Glass and kashrus

At this point, I am going to combine the next three of our opening questions into one discussion:

May I use a non-kosher drinking glass for a hot cup of tea?

After serving chicken soup in a glass, may I pour hot milk into the same glass?

How do I kasher my chometz-dik glasses for Pesach?

There is a tremendous diversity of opinion among the rishonim concerning the kashrus status of glassware. Do we assume, halachically, as does the chemist, that glass never imparts anything that it absorbs? If this is true, it should never require kashering and it may be used interchangeably from treif to kosher, from milchig to fleishig, and from chometz to Pesach without any kashering procedure at all. On the other hand, we have no Talmudic source that expressly permits using any utensil in any of these ways without a kashering procedure in between.

The different opinions that we find among the rishonim on this issue can be categorized loosely as three basic approaches:

1. No need to kasher

Several authorities contend that the nature of glass is that it does not absorb or impart any taste and that, therefore, it does not require any kashering at all (Rabbeinu Tam, quoted by Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 33b s.v. Kunya and Kesubos 107b s.v. Hani,and Rosh, Pesachim 2:8; Rashba, both in Shu”t Harashba 1:233 and in Toras Habayis 5:6; Ran, Pesachim 9a [in the Rif’s pages]; Ravyah,quoted by Mordechai, Pesachim #574). Many of these authorities quote the above mentioned Avos deRabbi Nosson as a proof for this ruling.

2. Does not help to kasher

Halacha treats glassware like pottery. Once pottery was used to cook chometz or non-kosher food, the flavor absorbed into its walls can never be fully removed. Rather than becoming completely extracted when one attempts to kasher pottery, some of the absorbed taste remains and leaches out afterwards with each use, potentially spreading prohibited flavor into all subsequent cooking (Tosafos, Chullin 8a s.v. Shelivna). In other words, once pottery becomes treif, it may be impossible to make kosher again. (There are some circumstances in which it can be kashered, but these unusual situations are beyond the scope of this article.)

Some early authorities contend that, since glassware is made from sand, it should be treated like sand, or, more accurately, like pottery and cannot be kashered (Mordechai, Pesachim #574, and Avodah Zarah #826; Terumas Hadeshen 1:132, 2:151). Most of these authorities quote the source for this approach as Rabbeinu Yechiel of Paris, one of the baalei Tosafos.

3. Glass is like metal

Some rishonim rule that just as Chazal gave glassware the same halachic status as metal regarding the mitzvah of tevilas keilim, it has the same halacha regarding the laws of kashrus (Bedek Habayis of the Re’ah, 5:6; Shibbolei Haleket #207).

However, once we rule that glassware is like metal, in practice, it might become stricter than metal. This is because of a rule that, when a particular method of kashering may break an appliance, Chazal prohibited using that method, out of concern that someone will be afraid to kasher it properly (Pesachim 30b). Thus, although metal can be kashered by boiling the appliance (hag’alah), it may not be allowed to kasher glassware this way, because the owner may be afraid that it will crack (Mor Uketzi’ah end of 451). On the other hand, other authorities permit kashering glassware by hag’alah for Pesach and are not concerned that someone might be afraid to kasher it properly (Shu”t Maharsham 1:53 at end).

A major halachic ramification results from the above. Glassware that is meant to be used in the oven, such as Pyrex, should, therefore, be kasherable for Pesach, since presumably the owner will not be afraid to kasher it properly. Although this is not common custom, there are prominent halachic authorities who permit this (She’arim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha 116:11).

Difference between treif and Pesach

There is a dispute among rishonim whether glass that was used for hot chometz may be used for Pesach. Some authorities are more stringent regarding using chometz-dik glassware for Pesach than using it interchangeably between milchig and fleishig. For example, the Hagahos Semaq, a late baal Tosafos, writes: “Universal custom is not to use for Pesach any used pottery vessels (even those coated with metal or glass). Rabbeinu Yechiel prohibited using even used drinking glasses, since the Gemara compares glass to pottery, and sometimes people place bread into drinking glasses, in which instance they absorb the way pottery does.” The way this statement is quoted, it implies that Rabbeinu Yechiel did not permit any form of glassware kashering for Pesach (Hagahos Semaq 222:5).

Similarly, the Issur Vaheter (58:50), an early Ashkenazic posek, quotes the Semaq as ruling that it is prohibited to kasher glass for Pesach and it should be treated lechumra as questionable whether it is considered metal or pottery.

How do we rule?

Among earlier halachic authorities, it appears that there was a big difference between Sefardic and Ashkenazic practice regarding the use of glassware. The Beis Yosef cites most of the halachic sources we quoted above, and concludes, both in Beis Yosef and in Shulchan Aruch, that glassware does not absorb and therefore may be used for Pesach without any kashering procedure at all (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 451:26). Following his approach, it would appear that someone could purchase or rent used glass equipment from a treif source, without any need to kasher it.

On the other hand, early Ashkenazic custom appears to have been closer to the approach of Rabbeinu Yechiel cited above. For example, the Rema rules that chometz-dik glassware should not be used for Pesach and that it is not kasherable for Pesach use, even when it was used only for serving cold beverages and not used ever to store them.

Although most Ashkenazic authorities subsequent to the Rema follow his approach, some rule that Ashkenazim could follow the Sefardic practice and use glassware for Pesach without kashering it first (Mor Uketzi’ah,end of 451).

Other authorities raise a different question regarding the Rema’s ruling that glassware may not be used for Pesach. The Rema prohibits using glassware for cold drinks on Pesach, even when the glass is used only for cold beverages the entire year. The reason the Rema is stringent is because of concern that chometz may have fallen into the glass and became kavush, which means that chometz flavor absorbed into the glass.

The difficulty with this ruling is that the Rema himself rules that a vessel, even made of pottery, that stored chometz for a lengthy period of time may be used on Pesach, even when this long-term storage would create kavush (Orach Chayim 451:21; see Mishnah Berurah 451:122). How could the Rema treat glassware more stringently than pottery? The only reason to be stringent regarding glassware is according to the minority opinion that treats glassware as pottery!

This question is raised by the commentary Beis Meir (Orach Chayim 451:26), who answers that the Ashkenazic minhag to be stringent not to kasher glass was only regarding drinking glasses, since buying new ones for Pesach is not a major expense. However, the Rema ruled leniently regarding large storage vessels that are expensive, even when they are made from pottery, and certainly when they were manufactured from glass. In other words, even the Rema holds that glassware is inherently kasherable; there is only a custom not to kasher drinking glasses for Pesach since this does not incur a great expense.

There are several ramifications of the Beis Meir’s ruling:

An individual who cannot afford to purchase glassware for Pesach may use his regular, chometz-dik glassware. In this situation, he should kasher his drinking glasses. This approach is followed by the Chayei Odom and the Mishnah Berurah (451:156) who rule that, in a place where glassware is relatively unavailable, glass items should be cleaned well and then kashered for Pesach, by a method called miluy ve’iruy. In this kashering method, glasses are submerged completely in a basin or tub full of cold water for at least 24 hours, the water is changed and glasses are submerged again for at least another 24 hours, and then a third time for at least another 24 hours.

The Mishnah Berurah rules that, if someone does not ordinarily use his glassware for hot chometz or to store chometz, and they used their glasses for Pesach without any kashering at all, the food or beverage placed in them remains kosher for Pesach. More so, in a case of major loss, the Mishnah Berurah permits Pesach-dik food, even when it was placed hot into glassware that was previously used for hot chometz. He permits this only if the glassware was not used for chometz within the previous 24 hours. There are other authorities who are even more lenient (Taz; Pri Chodosh; cf. Shaar Hatziyun 451:196).

According to the Beis Meir’s conclusion, it is permitted to drink a kosher beverage, even a hot tea or coffee, in a “non-kosher” drinking glass. This opinion is mentioned by many halachic authorities (Keneses Hagedolah, Yoreh Deah 121:25 in Hagahos Tur 25; Darkei Teshuvah 121:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 121:2). Thus, if you are in a non-kosher house or hotel, the hot tea or coffee you are served in a glass is still kosher. And, if we refer to one of our opening questions: “After serving chicken soup in a glass, may I pour hot milk into the same glass?” — the answer, according to these authorities, is that one may. I suggest that, prior to putting this into practice, our readers should ask this question from their own rav or posek.

Conclusion

The Chiddushei Harim notes that pottery vessels become tamei only from their inside and not when something touches their outside. He explains that this is because a pottery vessel, itself, is considered without inherent value – its value is determined by what it contains, whereas vessels made from other materials have inherent value. On this basis, the Sfas Emes, the grandson and successor of the Chiddushei Harim, notes that man’s value is also determined by what he contains on the inside, not on his outer projected image.

Image above by iprole on Freeimages.com




Wanted Dead or Alive

Question #1: Getting Rid of those Bugs!

“May I trap or kill mosquitoes, bees, or wasps on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Hanging from the Lowest Tree

“I forgot to hang the flypaper before Shabbos. May I do it on Shabbos?”

Question #3: A Charming Shabbos

“May a snake charmer work on Shabbos?”

Answer: Catching or dispatching

We have all been in the following uncomfortable situation: Sometime during Shabbos, a mosquito appears in our vicinity seeking to earn its living. Although we realize that this creature requires its sustenance, we are not eager that we, our children or our guests should become mosquito fodder, even just as a minor donor. Are we permitted to trap or kill the mosquito?

Trapping living things, tzad, was an action necessary for acquiring some of the materials used to build the Mishkan, and is one of the 39 melachos, categories of prohibited activity on Shabbos (Mishnah Shabbos 73a and Rashi ad loc.). Killing living things also violates the melachos of Shabbos, a topic that we discussed last week. Here, we discuss many pertinent principles of Shabbos and some details of the melachah of tzad.

Shabbos nomenclature

When discussing what one may or may not do on Shabbos, the Mishnah and Gemara use three terms: (1) chayov, punishable, when a particular act constitutes melachah, meaning that it desecrates Shabbos by violating a Torah law; (2) patur, exempt, meaning it does not violate a Torah law, and (3) mutar, permitted, when an act may be performed on Shabbos. We will discuss the middle term, patur, which states that a particular forbidden act does not violate Torah law. This term usually indicates that the act is prohibited due to rabbinic sanction, but  sometimes the Sages permitted such acts. But first we will explain what makes performing a forbidden activity patur?

Meleches machsheves

The Gemara (Chagigah 10b; Bava Kama 26b; Kerisus 19b) teaches that the Torah prohibited only something that can be categorized as meleches machsheves, which can perhaps be translated as premeditated melachah. An obvious example of meleches machsheves would be trapping an animal to obtain its hide or meat. Similarly, someone who digs a hole to plant the base of a tree violates the meleches machsheves of choreish, plowing, and one who picks a fruit performs a meleches machsheves of kotzeir, harvesting.

Meleches machsheves is often explained by what it is not. Following that approach, I will provide three categories of labor that are exempt from being defined as desecrating Shabbos min haTorah, because they do not qualify as meleches machsheves, at least according to some opinions.

Mekalkeil

In general, an act constitutes meleches machsheves only when its direct result is beneficial. This means that an action that is inherently destructive does not violate Shabbos min haTorah, even when one needs the result. For example, digging a hole in the ground when one needs the earth but not the hole is defined as a destructive activity and prohibited only miderabbanan. The dug hole itself is a negative development, rendering the burrowing to be mekalkeil, not prohibited min haTorah, but only because of rabbinic injunction. However, digging a hole to plant or to create a posthole results in a positive benefit and is indeed prohibited min haTorah, since one wants the hole in the ground.

Bemino nitzad

Here is a second example of meleches machsheves that is particular to the melachah that we are discussing, tzad. The tanna’im (Shabbos 107b) dispute whether it is prohibited min haTorah to ensnare a creature that mankind does not typically use, such as a scorpion or a flea, which is called ein bemino nitzad, literally, a species that is not trapped. The halachic conclusion follows the lenient opinion, ruling that tzad applies only to a species that is bemino nitzad, commonly trapped, so that mankind can benefit from it. For example, a species that is eaten, from whose body a medicine is extracted, or whose hide is used as leather qualifies as bemino nitzad. The halachic authorities discuss whether trapping an animal for scientific research or so that one can have it as a pet makes the animal bemino nitzad (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:21; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 50:4 at end).

However, a species that is caught only because it is an annoyance has the status of ein bemino nitzad.

Why is this true? The purpose of trapping is to harness a living creature so that mankind can use it. Thus, tzad is a type of acquisition (see Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 189:7; Biur Halachah, 316:2 s.v. Oh Choleh). However, trapping a creature that mankind does not generally use is not acquiring these creatures, but distancing them from potential victims. Therefore, most opinions conclude that trapping a species that is ein bemino nitzad does not violate the melachah of tzad, and is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction. Thus, since flies are ein bemino nitzad, catching them would not violate a Torah prohibition. Hanging flypaper on Shabbos would still involve a rabbinic prohibition and it is similarly prohibited to set up a mousetrap on Shabbos (Magen Avraham 316:9; see Piskei Tosafos, Shabbos 17b #62).

By the way, many authorities consider mice to be bemino nitzad, since there are places in the world where their hide is used (Chayei Odom 30:7). There is also a dispute whether a non-kosher species harvested only as food is considered bemino nitzad (Ritva, Shabbos 106b; Nimla Tal, Meleches Tzad #37).

Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah

Many authorities rule that another category of activity — Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah, literally, an act not needed for its purpose — is not prohibited min haTorah because it is not considered meleches machsheves. In fact, there is a dispute among tanna’im whether a Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan. Whereas Rabbi Yehudah contends that Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited min haTorah, according to Rabbi Shimon, these acts are prohibited only by virtue of rabbinic injunction.

What is a Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah? Among the rishonim, we find differing opinions as to exactly how to define this term, and there are many instances where a dispute in halachah results. Since this complicated question is a bit tangential to our topic, I am going to present only one approach. According to Tosafos (Shabbos 94a s.v. Rabbi Shimon) and the Rivash (Shu”t Harivash #394), Rabbi Shimon contends that the 39 melachos are prohibited min haTorah only when performed for a goal or purpose similar to the reason why this melachah was done when constructing the Mishkan. However, performing a melachah to accomplish a purpose other than that for which this melachah was performed in the Mishkan qualifies as a Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah. This means that it is prohibited only miderabbanan, according to Rabbi Shimon and those who rule like him.

Here is an example: Removing an item that has a bad odor from a reshus hayachid, an enclosed area, into a reshus harabim, an open area meant for public use, is a classic case of Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah. Although moving something from a reshus hayachid into a reshus harabim constitutes the melachah of carrying, moving the foul-smelling item from a house to a reshus harabim does not constitute a melachah min haTorah, according to Rabbi Shimon, because the purpose of the carrying when building the Mishkan was to relocate the item to a new place. However, when removing a foul-smelling item, there is no significance attached to the place to which the item is moved; one’s goal is only to distance it from its current location. The public area does not constitute the goal of one’s act; rather, it is merely a convenient place to deposit unwanted material. For this reason, Rabbi Shimon contends that this act was not prohibited by the Torah, but only by the Sages. On the other hand, Rabbi Yehudah considers Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah as conforming to the definition of meleches machsheves and prohibited min haTorah.

Although most rishonim conclude that the halachah follows Rabbi Shimon that Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction, the Rambam and others rule, according to Rabbi Yehudah, that Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited min haTorah.

When exempt is permitted

There is a passage of Gemara that reflects both on our opening question and on a different aspect of the melachah of tzad. “Shemuel said: Whenever the Mishnah states that something is patur when performed on Shabbos, the activity is prohibited [because of a rabbinic injunction], with the exception of the following three instances, when patur means that the activity is permitted. The first case discusses catching a deer, the second is catching a snake and the third is lancing a boil” (Shabbos 3a; 107a, as explained by Tosafos, Shabbos 3a s.v. Bar). Shemuel proves from Mishnayos that, in these three instances, the acts are permitted (Shabbos 107a). The first two of these cases educate us to understand what constitutes the melachah of trapping. (The case of lancing a boil involves a different topic that we will leave for a different article.)

What are the first two cases presented by Shemuel? The first situation is when a deer entered a building, and someone sat in the doorway of the building, thereby preventing the deer’s escape. When that person sat down, he trapped the deer and therefore performed the melachah of tzad. This is true, even if he was not involved in coaxing the deer into the building. The Mishnah (Shabbos 106b) then states that if a second person sits alongside the first in a way that the deer’s escape is still blocked, even when the first person gets up, the second person has not desecrated Shabbos. This is because the second person did not trap the deer but merely guaranteed that a captured animal remains in captivity. Although the Mishnah says that the second person is patur, Shemuel explains that one may lechatchilah sit down alongside the first person, even if one’s intention is to keep the deer trapped when the first person gets up. This explains a different aspect of tzad — the melachah is making the animal available for human use, but once it is already trapped, there is no further violation in keeping it under human control.

The second case is based on two different mishnayos. One Mishnah (Shabbos 107a) permits catching a scorpion, so that it doesn’t bite, and another states that catching a snake to prevent it from biting does not violate Shabbos min haTorah, whereas catching it for medicinal uses does (Eduyos 2:5). Tosafos proves that both Mishnayos that permit tzad to protect someone are discussing creatures whose bite is painful, but not life-threatening, pikuach nefesh (Tosafos, Shabbos 3a s.v. Bar). Were the Mishnah discussing a creature whose bite is life-threatening, it would be obvious that one may kill it, because of the general rule that actions necessary to protect life supersede Shabbos and almost all other mitzvos.

Shemuel ruled that although catching non-dangerous creatures is ordinarily prohibited on Shabbos, since this involves only a rabbinic injunction the Sages permitted it under extenuating circumstances.

Why is the act of trapping non-dangerous creatures considered only a rabbinic injunction? We have already presented two possible reasons. The first is because of the principle of Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah, since one has no interest in capturing a snake or a scorpion (Tosafos op. cit.). The second reason is that one is not catching these species to make them available for human use, which is an essential component of the melachah of tzad (Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 189:7; Biur Halachah, 316:2 s.v. Oh Choleh).

Mosquitoes versus snakes

Although we have discovered that one may catch snakes and scorpions that are not life-threatening, this does not tell us whether one may trap mosquitoes, bees or wasps. Although the sting or bite of these species is indeed painful, it is not usually as painful as a snake or scorpion bite. Thus, it might be that Chazal did not permit catching mosquitoes, bees or wasps.

We can presumably derive the answer from the following passage of Gemara:

“Someone who trapped a flea on Shabbos, Rabbi Eliezer rules him liable for desecrating Shabbos min haTorah, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua rules that his desecration of Shabbos was only of a rabbinic ordinance” (Shabbos 107b). The Gemara explains that this dispute is dependent on an issue that we discussed earlier. Does one desecrate Shabbos min haTorah if he traps a species that is not usually trapped? Rabbi Eliezer rules that he does, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua rules that he does not. Thus, it appears from this Gemara that although Shemuel proved that it is permitted to trap a scorpion, even of the non-deadly variety, one cannot trap a flea, which is considered only as causing discomfort.

Three types of varmints

We can, therefore, divide the different types of unpleasant biters and stingers into three categories:

1. Those that are potentially life-threatening to people. In this instance, if there is even the slightest possibility of danger, one may kill or catch them on Shabbos.

2. Those whose bite will be very painful, but there is no life-threatening danger. These may be trapped on Shabbos, provided that one’s intent is only to save people from harm (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:25). However, it is forbidden to trap if one intends to use the insect, reptile or arachnid. (Modern biology categorizes spiders and scorpions as arachnids, because they have eight legs, are carnivorous and are wingless. If we want to categorize insects and arachnids together, we should use the word arthropods, but that still excludes snakes and other reptiles. So, for most of this article, I have simply used the word creatures. My apologies to the scientists who are reading this.)

3. Those whose bite will be unpleasant, but not highly painful. In this instance, there is a dispute among the rishonim. Tosafos and the Rosh quote from an earlier baal Tosafos named Rav Poras that, if one sees that an insect may bite him, he is permitted to remove the insect. When the insect is not so close to him, he may brush the insect off, but he may not trap it.

Not all authorities accepted Rav Poras’ approach. The Mordechai (#402) quotes Rav Yehudah Gaon that he noticed that the “elder rabbis” did not trap fleas, even when they were on their skin. The Beis Yosef, however, contends that even Rav Yehudah Gaon accepts the ruling of Rav Poras, but that he himself practiced this as a personal chumrah, not as the required halachah that he would rule for others. There are other rishonim, however, who certainly disagree with Rav Poras and prohibit trapping mosquitoes, even when they are on your skin, since they are only a discomfort (Meiri, Shabbos 107b).

Consensus

The consensus of halachic authorities follows Rav Poras, although there is a dispute among them whether it is permitted to catch the insect only when it is actually biting (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 316:9; Bach) or whether one may remove the insects even when they are in close proximity (Taz 316:8; Magen Avraham 316:18; Elyah Rabbah). The Mishnah Berurah (316:37) concludes that when one can brush off the insect, he should not rely on the heter of trapping it, but he implies that one may trap the insect if brushing it off will not suffice.

Answers

At this point, let us take a fresh look at our original questions:

“May I trap mosquitoes, bees, or wasps on Shabbos?”

The answer is that if the insect is about to attack someone, one may trap it. One may also trap it if its sting or bite is very painful, and certainly if it is potentially dangerous.

May one hang flypaper on Shabbos? The answer is that one may not.

“May a snake charmer work on Shabbos?” If one is not intending to use the snake, it is permitted. This is all the more so if the snake is dangerous.

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos, to ensure that Shabbos is a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. We certainly see this idea borne out by the ideas of meleches machsheves, which denote the purpose of the action, and have no correlation at all to the amount of energy expended. The goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by our refraining from our own creative acts (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Commentary to Shemos 20:11).




May I Take Lives?

Introduction

One of the 39 melachos on Shabbos is netilas neshamah, literally, taking a life. Although we may not want to consider this to be a constructive activity, we recognize that the animal world was placed under our control to use it responsibly and respectfully. This article will discuss some of the details of the halachos of Shabbos that are included in this melacha.

When listing the melachos, the Mishnah, refers to it as hashocheit, meaning he who slaughters. (Later in the article, I will discuss why the Mishnah refers to it in this manner, rather than the more technically accurate hanoteil neshama.) To quote the Mishnah, “One who traps a deer, one who slaughters it, one who skins it, one who salts the hide, one who tans the hide, one who scrapes off the hair, and one who cuts it to size” (Shabbos 73a). Performing any of these activities on Shabbos violates one of the 39 main categories of desecrating Shabbos, what we call an av melacha. As we will see shortly, there are also tolados melacha, subcategories of these 39, which also involve a Torah violation of Shabbos.

An obvious question is that the Mishnah lists “salting the hide” and “tanning the hide” as two different melachos, which is strange, since salting is one of the stages in tanning, and, therefore, does not comprise a separate av melacha. The Gemara notes that this is indeed true, and that “salting” should therefore be deleted from the Mishnah. Since this would result in the Mishnah listing only 38 melachos and not 39, the Gemara explains that a different melacha, called mesarteit, should be included. Mesarteit means “marking,” which, according to Rashi, refers to scoring or marking leather in order to know where to cut it (Shabbos 75b). According to the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 11:17), mesarteit is scoring paper or parchment in order to be able to write on it neatly. The Rambam explains that a toladah of this melacha would be to mark lumber prior to sawing it. Marking a precious stone in order to decide how to cut it is another application of mesarteit (Minchas Chinuch). An interesting contemporary example might be when a surgeon marks a patient’s skin where he intends to make his incision.

Purpose of shocheit

Returning to shocheit, this melacha was necessary to prepare materials for the construction of the Mishkan, such as the hides of the rams and the techashim, the unusual species that appeared on earth so that its hide could be used in the construction of the Mishkan and then became extinct (Shabbos 28b).

Chilazon catching

There is halachic discussion regarding whether the melacha of shocheit was necessary to create the dyes prepared from the chilazon, the fish from which the techeiles was made. Allow me to explain. The Gemara (Shabbos 75a) quotes a beraysa, a teaching dating to the era of the Mishnah, that there is a machlokes tanna’im regarding someone who catches a chilazon and squeezes out its liquid used for dyeing. Does he violate only the melacha of trapping or is he also liable for extracting the dye, which would violate the melacha of dosh, threshing. The Gemara then asks why this process does not also violate the melacha of netilas neshamah. The Gemara quotes two answers to this question:

Rabbi Yochanan explains that processing dyes from a live chilazon indeed violates netilas neshamah, but the beraysa omits this fact, because it is discussing a case where the chilazon is already dead.

Rava answers that the beraysa may indeed be discussing someone extracting dye from a live chilazon, yet he does not violate netilas neshamah because the dyer is trying to keep the chilazon alive while he extracts its dye, since it produces better color when it is alive (Shabbos 75a). Notwithstanding the fact that the extraction will kill the chilazon, since the dyer is trying to keep it alive, he does not violate a melacha for killing it, according to this opinion.

Bleeding

Causing a person or animal to bleed on Shabbos is a Torah violation of shocheit. Which of the 39 melachos does this violate? This is the subject of a major dispute among the rishonim, many of whom conclude that one violates the melacha of netilas neshamah. A question already raised by the rishonim is that if netilas neshamah is the taking of life, why does one violate it when all he did was cause a loss of blood?

The answer is that since the posuk states, ki hadam hu hanefesh, that blood is life, causing bleeding is considered, for the purposes of this melacha, the same as taking life (Tosafos, Kesubos 5b s.v. Dam and Shabbos 75a s.v. Ki).

Causing what we call a black-and-blue mark, which means that there is some form of bruising or superficial bleeding beneath the skin, also violates shocheit min haTorah (Shabbos 107b and Rashi).

As we have learned, the concept of meleches shocheit is taking the life of an animal. It refers to the instances in which it was necessary to take an animal’s life (netilas neshamah) in order to prepare materials for the construction of the Mishkan. However, this netilas neshamah did not require ritual slaughter. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 11:1): “One who slaughters is obligated for desecrating Shabbos, and not only one who slaughters, but anyone who takes the life of any living creature, be it a mammal, a bird, a fish or a creeping creature; whether he took its life through shechitah, nechirah, or by beating it.” I will explain shortly what the word nechirah means.

Drowning

Several later authorities conclude that drowning an animal on Shabbos similarly violates netilas neshamah min haTorah (Shu”t Chavos Yair #164; Nishmas Odom 31:3).

Fish out of water

Removing a fish from water violates netilas neshamah (Rashi, Shabbos 107b; Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 11:1). To quote the Gemara, “Shmuel said, one who removes a fish from water is guilty of desecrating Shabbos once a coin-sized part of its skin has dried out” (Shabbos 107b). The Gemara then adds that this is true when the dried-out area is between its fins, since, once the fish has dried out this much, it will die, even should one return it to water.

One who catches a fish and hauls it out of the water violates both trapping, tzad, and taking its life. If it was caught from before Shabbos, but left in the water until Shabbos, one who removes it from the water is in violation only for killing it. Someone who trapped the fish on Shabbos and placed it into a bucket of water violated tzad, but not killing it.

Wrong name

At this point, I will discuss a question alluded to earlier. Although when we use the word shechitah, we ordinarily mean the halachically accepted method of preparing an animal for the Jewish table, the word can be used as a translation for any instance in which one would use the word slaughter in English. (See, for example, Yirmiyohu 52:10.) Why, then, does the Mishnah call the melachahashocheit,” rather than the broader and more accurate term hanoteil neshamah, “one who takes the life of an animal?”

The answer is that, in truth, the melacha is killing an animal and not necessarily shechting it. However, the Mishnah (Shabbos 73a) uses the term “hashocheit” because it chooses, for its own educational reasons, the example of a deer (“one who traps a deer, one who slaughters it, etc.”), and prefers expressing the name of the melacha in the context of processing it for kosher food.

Baking or cooking?

This is similar to another case in the same Mishnah, regarding the melacha that we usually call bishul, cooking, which the Mishnah calls “ofeh,” baking. The “cooking” performed in the construction of the Mishkan was the heating of dyes in vats, in which cloth was placed for dyeing. Nevertheless, the Mishnah calls the melacha ofeh, baking, since it fits the Mishnah’s pedagogic style better to refer to the baking of bread, notwithstanding that no baking was involved in the construction of the Mishkan (Shabbos 74b).

Nechirah

We quoted, above, the Rambam’s statement that someone who kills an animal by means of nechirah has violated the av melacha of netilas neshamah. What is nechirah?

In Modern Hebrew, the word nechirah means stabbing an animal to death, a common method of non-kosher slaughter. However, there is no evidence in traditional sources that this is what the word means. From the Mishnah (Bava Kama 7:5; Chullin 5:3; 6:2), we see that the word nechirah refers to a means of killing an animal, but it is unclear exactly which method is intended. Further complicating matters is that Rashi, in two different places, presents two contrary approaches. In Chullin (85b) he explains nechirah to mean choking an animal to death, whereas in Bava Kama (78b), he understands it differently, relating the word nechirah to the Hebrew word for nostril, nechir, which has the same root.

The Rambam could not have understood nocheir to mean choking, because he explains (Hilchos Shabbos 11:1) that choking an animal is a toladah of netilas neshamah, whereas he explains that nechirah is the av melacha itself. Since he wrote no other description, we cannot ascertain what he understood nechirah to mean. Thus, we are left with no definitive conclusion regarding what constitutes nechirah.

Av versus toladah

The statement of the Rambam that I just quoted raises a different question: Indeed, why is choking an animal only a toladah of netilas neshama and not the av melacha itself? Perhaps this is because choking withholds something vital from the animal (air) rather than directly killing it (Nimla Tal, Meleches Shocheit #32).

Dyeing or dying?

In this context, we cannot ignore a seemingly very strange passage of Gemara (Shabbos 75a-b, as explained by Tosafos). “Why is slaughtering on Shabbos a punishable offense for desecrating Shabbos? Rav said because of dyeing, and Shmuel said because of taking a life.” The Gemara then asked of Rav, is slaughtering only a violation of dyeing and not of taking a life? To this, the Gemara replies that Rav meant that slaughtering violates two prohibitions on Shabbos, one for taking a life and the other for dyeing. The Gemara then explains why Rav contends that the shocheit also violates dyeing: The butcher wants part of the hide of a freshly slaughtered animal to look bright red, because it attracts customers interested in purchasing fresh meat. This is an adequate reason to consider the slaughtering a melacha of dyeing.

Dies after Shabbos?

What is the halacha if someone removed a fish from water towards the very end of Shabbos, but the fish did not die until Shabbos was over? Has the person violated Shabbos min haTorah, since his action was performed on Shabbos, or has he not, since the fish did not die until motza’ei Shabbos? This subject is debated by several late authorities (see, for example, Rashash, Shabbos 73a; Minchas Chinuch 298:8; Tzafnas Paneiach, Hilchos Shabbos 9:1; Eglei Tal, Meleches Zorei’a 8:8).

Positive purpose

A general principle regarding the melachos of Shabbos is that they are prohibited min haTorah only when they provide a positive benefit, what we call a tikun (Mishnah Shabbos 105b). Performing a melacha activity whose direct result is negative is called mekalkeil and does not violate Shabbos min haTorah. For example, digging a hole on Shabbos only because one needs some earth with which to cover a spill is not a violation of the melacha min haTorah, but only miderabbanan. The reason is that the hole is itself not an advantage. One violates the melacha of choreish, plowing, only when one creates a furrow or something similar, such that the digging itself results in something beneficial.

A consequence of this principle is that violating netilas neshamah min haTorah requires that the result is positive – it creates or is a stage in the creation of meat, leather, dye or something similar. (Although there is a tanna, Rabbi Shimon, who rules that netilas neshamah is an exception to the general rule of mekalkeil [Shabbos 106a], the halacha does not follow his approach [Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 8:8, 12:1; Rashi, Chullin 40a s.v. Shalosh; Tosafos, Chullin 29b s.v. Kegon].)

Killing insects

The halacha that a melacha activity is prohibited min haTorah only when its results are positive affects the following common question: Is killing annoying insects on Shabbos prohibited min haTorah? If it is prohibited min haTorah, the only reason to permit eliminating these insects is when they pose a threat to life. However, if the prohibition is only miderabbanan, there may be other grounds upon which to permit this, under extenuating circumstances. Although we will leave details of this for a different time, we now realize that a Torah prohibition is involved only when someone intends to put the insect remains to good use.

I will now present a more detailed discussion about this idea, which requires an introduction germane to a different, seemingly unrelated topic.

Value added

It is prohibited min haTorah to have any benefit from something that was used to worship idols. The Gemara (Chullin 8a) rules that, notwithstanding this law, one is permitted to perform the act of shechitah with a knife that was designated for idol worship. How can this be permitted?

The Gemara assumes that an animal is worth more in the marketplace when alive than after shechitah. This was certainly true in the time of the Gemara, when a living animal could be used for hauling or other employment, something difficult to get it to do after shechitah. The Gemara explains that since an animal is worth more alive than dead, no value was added when the prohibited appliance changed the animal from employee to food. Thus, shechitah did not add any value, and the shechitah knife’s contribution is considered negative. In other words, this act is considered mekalkeil. And this is halachically true, even if you are a butcher with a long line of customers waiting to purchase fresh meat.

The Gemara then states that, although we have established that the avodah zarah knife may be used to shecht the animal, it is forbidden to use that knife to slice up the meat after shechitah has been completed. This is because, at this point, cutting up and slicing the meat add financial value.

The animal is sick

There is an old Yiddish proverb: When a poor man eats chicken, one of them is sick. This proverb can be used to explain the next passage of the Gemara that we have been studying: Rava explained that sometimes it is prohibited to shecht with this avodah zarah knife. When? In the case of a sick animal whose life is in danger, but it is not a tereifah, meaning that its illness does not affect its kashrus status. In this instance, slaughtering the animal, thus permitting its meat for Jewish consumption, increases the value of the animal, since a sick animal cannot work and may die without the benefit of shechitah, which would severely decrease its value. Thus, this shechitah adds financial value, and, as a result, may not be performed with an avodah zarah knife.

Honored guest

The next point in the Gemara is that although we have just established that one may not slice up meat with an avodah zarah knife, there is a situation in which this is permitted. When is this? If it is a nice cut of meat that would be suitable to serve to an honored guest, but one chooses to cut it up. Although this may make it more serviceable for your family, on an objective level it has decreased the value of the meat, since upper echelon people would no longer purchase it. Since the slicing in this instance reduces the commercial value of the meat, it is considered mekalkeil, and therefore permitted to be done with an avodah zarah knife.

Isn’t all shechitah mekalkeil?

On the basis of this Talmudic discussion, Tosafos (Shabbos 106a) asks: Should not every act of shechitah qualify as mekalkeil, whenever the animal is worth more as a work animal? If that is true, then most acts of shechitah will be exempt from desecrating Shabbos, something that the Gemara, in the above-quoted dispute between Rav and Shmuel, should have noted, but did not.

There are several answers to this question. Some assume that the two mitzvos, Shabbos and avodah zarah, follow different rules. Regarding avodah zarah, there must be a financial net gain for it to be considered that one “benefited” from the prohibition. Regarding the laws of Shabbos, a person’s subjective interest that this animal becomes meat is enough reason to render the melacha a tikun (Sefer Yerei’im).

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and instead emphasize Hashem’s role (Shemos 20:11). We thereby acknowledge the true Builder and Creator of the world and all that it contains.




Pure Gold and Copper

Question #1: Nickel and Platinum

As far as the laws of tumah and taharah are concerned, what is the halachic status of metals that have been discovered and isolated since the times of Chazal, which include zinc, chromium, manganese, nickel, magnesium, platinum, aluminum, titanium and many others?

Question #2: Pure Gold Bells

In this week’s parsha, the Torah describes the bells that are attached to the robe (me’il) worn by the kohein gadol. These bells were made so that their sound should be heard when the kohein gadol enters the Sanctuary (Shemos 25:35). A bell made of 100% gold will not ring because the metal is too soft. For a gold bell to ring, it must be an alloy including a small percentage of a different metal. So, how can the Torah say in Parshas Pikudei that the bells were made from “zahav tahor,” pure gold?

Question #3:

At the time of the Korach rebellion, when 250 individuals offered incense, the Torah (Bamidbar 16:17-18) does not describe what metal they used for their censers, their coal pans. However, later (Bamidbar 17:4) the Torah tells us that they were made of nechoshes, which usually means “copper,” although I have seen translations that render it “bronze.” Does it make a halachic difference whether they were made from copper or from bronze?

What is the difference between bronze, brass and copper?

Copper is an element, with an atomic number of 29, meaning that every copper atom has 29 protons. Various other metals, such as tin, zinc or nickel, can be added to copper to create alloys with somewhat different properties than pure copper. In our world, one of the primary uses of copper is for electric wiring, since it is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, and, for this use, pure copper filament is used. However, when using copper in most other applications, other metals are added to the copper, which gives it qualities useful for the desired application.

Both bronze, an alloy of predominantly copper with some tin, and brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, are treated halachically as copper, since the Mishnah implies that an alloy would be treated as its majority constituent (Keilim 11:4). Those who translate the word nechoshes in the context of the coal pans as “bronze” assume that the copper would have been alloyed to increase its strength and heat resistance and to decrease its malleability. Tin, the usual other major component of bronze, is also an element, with the atomic number of 50. Tin has been known since antiquity, and has been used both in relatively pure form and in alloys of bronze for thousands of years. Brass is a naturally occurring alloy of copper and zinc, and has been used for over two thousand years. Only about three hundred years ago was zinc isolated and recognized as a separate metal with an atomic number of 30. Different types of brass vary in the ratio of copper to zinc, and may have other elements, such as arsenic or antimony, added. It is also possible, but rare, that the brass contains more zinc than copper.

Since bronze is predominantly copper and had already been developed and commonly used by the era of Yetzias Mitzrayim, there seems to be nothing wrong with assuming that nechoshes in connection with the mishkan and other references in the Torah means bronze, rather than pure copper. Nevertheless, since we usually translate nechoshes as copper, that is the way I am going to translate it.

At the time of the giving of the Torah, six metals were in common usage: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead (see Bamidbar 31:22). There, the context is kashering used equipment made from these metals before they may be treated as kosher, and Chazal also derive the requirement to immerse food equipment made from these metals that was previously owned by non-Jews (Avodah Zarah 75b).

As we know from the Mishnah and the Gemara (fourth chapter of Bava Metzia), gold, silver and copper have been used as currencies for millennia. Copper, the least valuable of the three, was used for smaller valued coins (think of pennies) whereas silver was used for higher valued coins (think of dimes, quarters and dollars). (I will allow you to imagine which metal is the major component of a nickel.) In the days before paper money and electronic transfers, large transactions required gold coins. This is very different from the contemporary gold coins, which are used as investment and collectors’ items, not as currency. Today, even the coins that were traditionally minted from silver and copper are predominantly composed of base metals of lesser value, so that the coin does not contain the metallic equivalent of its face value. (During the development of modern Europe, governments regularly debased their currencies of gold, silver and copper as an early means of “minting more currency,” with which to meet their military budgets.)

Metals in the Mishkan

The Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash predominantly required use of the more valuable metals, gold and silver, but copper did have its place. It was used mainly for the kiyor, the laver or sink used by the kohanim to wash their hands and feet prior to performing the avodah, for the base of the wooden walls of the Mishkan, for the sides and utensils of the mizbeiach, the stand of the kiyor, and as hooks, overlay, and trim on various vessels.

Categories of vessels

Prior to addressing our opening questions, I need to explain some principles of tumah and taharah. Whether utensils are susceptible to tumah depends on the material from which they are made; some materials can become tamei and others cannot. Most items made of wood, cloth, earthenware, metal, leather or bone can contract tumah; items made of unfired earth or stone usually cannot.

Recycling

One of the qualities of metals is that they are fully recyclable. Metal can be melted down to create new items, and there is usually no quality lost by reusing metal rather than using freshly mined material. In this aspect, metal had a unique quality over most materials that were available in the ancient world, such as leather, stone, brick, wood or earthenware, none of which are recyclable in the same way.

There is even a halachic advantage to reprocessing metal. Should a metal utensil become tamei, melting it down or breaking it until it can no longer be used makes the metal tahor, min haTorah, since only utensils are capable of being tamei.

At one point, this led to a concern: There are two ways to remove tumah from a tamei utensil. One is by immersing it in a mikveh or spring, after which we need to wait until nightfall for the utensil to become tahor. (If a utensil became tamei meis by contact with a corpse, a week’s time must transpire within which the utensil must be sprinkled on two different days with spring water containing ashes of the parah adumah, before immersion in a mikveh or spring can render it tahor.)

The second method of making a tamei utensil tahor is by breaking or melting it so that it is no longer serviceable as a utensil, then having a smith repair or manufacture it into a new utensil. Min haTorah, this latter method immediately makes the utensil tahor (i.e., one does not have to wait until nightfall). However, this led to a problem (Shabbos 16b): According to Abayei, the concern was that people may not break the utensil sufficiently. According to Rava, the concern was that people may confuse the laws of tevillah with the laws of breakage and forget that one needs to wait until nightfall after tevillah to use them. Both amora’im agree that there is a concern that people will treat the utensil as tahor when it is still tamei.

To avoid this problem, Chazal established a rule that a metal utensil that was tamei, was broken to make it tahor, and was then manufactured into a new utensil becomes tamei again. This takanah is called tumah yeshanah, which I will translate as tumah revisited.

Glass

The first fully recyclable, non-metallic material discovered by mankind was glass. Broken glass can be melted down, shaped and cooled into new appliances in a process somewhat similar to metals. Since glass and metal share this quality, Chazal included glass in the category of items that can become tamei (Shabbos 16a). We will soon see that later authorities disputed whether other materials that can be recycled this way, such as some plastics, are miderabbanan also treated like metal items, or whether this ruling is unique to glass.

Tevillas Keilim

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) quotes Rav Ashi that, in addition to the requirement to toveil metal items that are intended for food use and that came from a non-Jew, we are also required to immerse glass dishes, for the same reason mentioned above — glass is recyclable by melting and reconstructing.

New metals

At this point, let us address our opening question: What is the halachic status, germane to the laws of tumah and taharah, of metals that have been discovered and isolated since the times of Chazal, which include zinc, chromium, manganese, nickel, magnesium, platinum, aluminum, titanium and many others?

There are differing approaches among later authorities regarding how halacha views these “new” metals, which results in different opinions regarding the laws of tumah and the laws of immersing utensils:

1. All metals have the same halachic status min haTorah as the six metals mentioned in Chumash (Yevakeish Daas of the Tiferes Yisrael, #44).

2. Any item that is recyclable is mekabeil tumah and requires tevillas keilim miderabbanan (Shu’t Ohel Avraham #24).

3. Only the six types of metal that the Torah mentions become tamei, and not any of the newly discovered ones. This position is suggested by Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:164) and by Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky (Sefer Tevillas Keilim,page 243). Shu’t Melamed Leho’il specifically concludes that, among recyclable materials, only glass is required to be treated like metal, because this is the only instance in which Chazal created this ruling. In other words, the fact that another material now exists that is also recyclable, like the six metals of the Torah and glassware, does not mean that this material is susceptible to tumah or requires tevillas keilim.

Because of the dispute between the Ohel Avraham,mentioned above, and the Melamed Leho’il, some authorities rule that utensils used for food and made from a recyclable material other than the six stated in the Torah and glass should be immersed, but without a brocha (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 3:76, 77, 78; 4:114:4).

Majority of alloy

As we noted above, the Mishnah proves that an alloy’s halacha follows a majority of its composition, so this dispute between the Ohel Avraham and the Melamed Leho’il will not affect the halachic status of bronze, pewter or steel. Steel is predominantly iron, and pewter is predominantly tin; therefore, items manufactured from these alloys are mekabeil tumah and require tevillas keilim min haTorah. It would affect the unusual variety of brass in which the copper component is less in volume than the zinc and other components. (Copper is slightly lighter than zinc, so a brass item made of 50-50 copper and zinc by weight, actually contains more copper than zinc by volume.)

Tumah of metals

According to many authorities, metals have a special status relative to the laws of tumah, which requires an introduction. In general, the highest level of tumah anything can ever become is called av hatumah, which should be translated as main category (or level) of tumah. There is one level of tumah, that of a meis, which makes other items into an av hatumah. For this reason, Rashi (Pesachim 14b and 17a; Bava Kama 2a) refers to a meis as avi avos hatumah, or super-category of tumah.

Swords

The Gemara (Pesachim 14b; Nazir 53b) teaches a principle call cherev harei hu ke’chalal,which means that, although usually only a meis can have the halachic category of being an avi avos hatumah, a vessel that touched a meis may also have this level of tumah. There are three major opinions among rishonim as to which types of utensils can have this law.

1. Those who rule that the principle of cherev harei hu ke’chalal applies only to metal utensils (Rashi, Shabbos 101b; Pesachim 14b and 97a; Rabbeinu Chananel, Pesachim 14b; Tosafos, Nazir 53b and 54b; Rabbeinu Tam, quoted by Tosafos, Bava Kama 2b). We should note that which metals are now included in this ruling will depend on the dispute among acharonim I quoted above as to whether newly discovered metals are mekabel tumah min haTorah, miderabbanan or not at all.

2. Those who rule that the principle of cherev harei hu ke’chalal applies to all utensils that can become tamei and subsequently made tahor through immersion in a mikveh or spring (Rambam, Hilchos Tumas Meis 5:3; Rabbi Yitzchak ben Malki Tzedek, cited in Rash, Ohalos 1:2; Bartenura and Eliyahu Rabbah, Ohalos 1:2).

3. Those who understand the Mishnah and Gemara of cherev harei hu ke’chalal in a different way, concluding that utensils can never become avi avos hatumah (Raavad, Hilchos Tumas Meis 5:3).

Pure gold

So far, we have been discussing, predominantly, copper, other less precious metals, and their alloys. At this point, I want to discuss the second of our opening questions, concerning gold alloys: A bell made of 100% gold will not ring because the metal is too soft. For a gold bell to ring, it must be an alloy including a small percentage of a different metal. So, how can the Torah say that the bells were manufactured from “pure gold.”

The questioner here, a frum and Torah-knowledgeable metallurgist, assumed that a statement that something is made of zahav tahor, “pure gold,” means that there is no alloy of other metals. He understood that the gold used for the bells must have been an alloy containing a small percentage of another metal, which would have the desired properties of both strength and resonance. This would allow the bells to produce a ringing sound when the kohein gadol walked, fulfilling their purpose as bells.

Let me explain his question a bit more:

Most gold vessels and garments of the Mishkan required that they be made of zahav tahor (see Shemos 25:11, 17, 24, 29, 31, 38; 28:14, 22, 36; 30:3). However, the two rings of the choshen are described only as zahav, omitting the word tahor (Shemos 28:23); similarly, the gold thread is not described as tahor (28:15), nor are the two rings manufactured along the sides of the mizbeiach hazahav (30:4), nor the gold overlay of the poles that carry the mizbeiach (30:5). These references might indicate that when the Torah requires “gold,” but does not specify “zahav tahor,” that it is not 100% gold, but a gold alloy that is more suitable for use as a thread, or carrying ring or pole.

Golden bells

When Betzalel and his assistants manufactured the bells attached to the hem of the kohein gadol’s garment, the Torah says that he made them from “pure gold” (Shemos 39:25). However, in parshas Tetzaveh (Shemos 28, 33), where we are commanded about the manufacture of these bells, the Torah states simply that they are made of gold, omitting the word tahor. Thus, we have a conundrum: the Torah does not require that the bells be manufactured of zahav tahor, yet Betzalel made them that way. Regarding all the other items manufactured for the Mishkan, when the mitzvah stated to make them from zahav and not necessarily zahav tahor, no mention is made that Betzalel and his assistants manufactured them from zahav tahor!

The answer is that the term “pure/tahor” gold may mean that it is 100% gold, or it might mean that the gold is tahor, meaning that it is not tamei. Bells made for jewelry or as a tassel hanging from the hem of a garment are not considered utensils, and therefore cannot become tamei. Thus, there would be no need to manufacture them from tahor gold. Only when they are manufactured to ring and, therefore, they contain a clapper, are they susceptible to tumah, in which case it is important to note that they are tahor and not tamei. When we are commanded to make them, the Torah emphasized that these bells can ring – which means that they are potentially susceptible to tumah. It is thus understood that they must have been made tahor. At the time of their manufacture, we need to be reminded that they must be made tahor, since they are susceptible to tumah (Meshech Chachmah, Shemos 39:25). Thus, the reference to their being “pure” does not mean that they were 100% gold. They needed to be an alloy that has some added other metal so that they will ring.

Conclusion

Among the various mitzvos dealt with in this article is the mitzvah requiring that we immerse our food utensils prior to use. This tevillah elevates their sanctity, so that they can now be used for a Jew’s table. Thus, not only food that a Jew eats requires special care, but also the equipment with which he prepares that food.




Jewish Judges and Police

Question #1: Beis din

What is the role of beis din in Jewish life?

Question #2: Police protection

In a community that is run completely according to halacha, who is in charge of appointing and overseeing the police force?

Introduction:

Parshas Mishpatim is the primary parsha regarding halachic civil law, and Parshas Shoftim begins with a mitzvah to appoint shoftim, judges, or as we usually call them dayanim (singular dayan), and shoterim (singular shoteir), enforcement officers, bailiffs or police. The Torah states that you must appoint judges and police in all your “gates,” meaning in all your cities.

Rashi quotes the passage of Gemara (Sanhedrin 16b) that there is a requirement min haTorah to appoint judges in every city and for every tribe. We need to clarify a point: If a beis din is appointed for every city, what is added by appointing a beis din for every sheivet?

The rishonim already address this issue. According to Tosafos (Sanhedrin 16b s.v. Shoftim), the Gemara is teaching that if the border separating two shevatim divides a city between them, the two sections should each have its own beis din. The Ramban (beginning of parshas Shoftim) mentions this approach, and then suggests a different way to understand the Gemara: Each sheivet has a beis din with jurisdiction over the entire sheivet, greater responsibility and authority than has a city’s beis din, whose authority is limited to the city’s borders. Thus, although a city’s beis din can force anyone who lives in its city to follow their directives or to appear before them for litigation, they cannot obligate someone who lives outside their city to appear before them or to follow their orders. A sheivet’s beis din has the ability to force any member of that sheivet to appear before them for litigation. It also has the ability to create a gezeirah that is binding on the entire sheivet.

23 Judges!

The Rambam (Hilchos Sanhedrin 1:1, 3) rules that each city and region in Eretz Yisroel has its own beis din of 23 judges, and that smaller towns and villages have a beis din of three dayanim (Hilchos Sanhedrin 1:4). The Lechem Mishneh (1:1) explains that the Rambam uses the word “region” to mean the same thing that we have been calling sheivet, and also explains why the Rambam changes the term.

The Rambam elaborates on all the different batei din that must be created. There was a chamber in the Beis Hamikdash called the lishkas hagazis, which was the meeting place of the main beis din of Klal Yisroel, the Sanhedrin, also called the Beis Din Hagadol, which consisted of 71 judges. There was a second, smaller beis din of 23 dayanim that was located near the entrance to the Beis Hamikdash, and a third beis din, also of 23 dayanim, that was located near the entrance to the Har Habayis.

The authority of the Sanhedrin

The Sanhedrin has much authority and many roles to play. It is the final court of halachic appeals, and the final decider of halacha. Its interpretation of Torah sheba’al peh is authoritative. Any halachic issue that is uncertain or disputed by a lower beis din could eventually be referred to the Beis Din HaGadol for a binding decision.

When the Sanhedrin exists, the Jewish calendar is determined by a small beis din appointed especially for this purpose by the nasi, the head of the Sanhedrin.

All the other batei din mentioned above — the smaller ones on the Har Habayis and at the entrance to the Beis Hamikdash, and the batei din of the shevatim and the cities – are appointed by the Sanhedrin.

The Sanhedrin also fulfills several political and administrative roles. It appoints the king of the Jewish people. Many other halachos require the participation or agreement of the Sanhedrin, including a decision whether to wage war and to expand the halachic boundaries of the Beis Hamikdash or of Yerushalayim (Mishnah Shevuos 14a; Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1). Thus, the Sanhedrin is not only the supreme halachic authority, but it is also quite literally the “power behind the throne,” “the power behind the courts,” and, at the same time, the court of final appeal. It has the final say in all matters, both temporal and spiritual.

Who can be a judge?

There are many technical requirements that all members must meet, among them that they must all be superior talmidei chachomim and yirei shamayim (G-d fearing individuals), wise, perceptive, analytic, humble, truth-loving, personable, of good reputation and possess a basic knowledge of many secular areas, such as medicine and astronomy (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 2:1, 7). The Rambam (Hilchos Sanhedrin 2:8) describes how the Sanhedrin would send representatives to locate qualified dayanim and appoint them to their local beis din. As places on the higher batei din opened, they would promote local dayanim up the chain to the next tier, and so on. The Rambam also emphasizes the importance of appointing appropriately qualified people to be dayanim, and the catastrophe that results from appointing those who are unqualified or inappropriate (Hilchos Sanhedrin 3:8).

Semicha

All members of the Sanhedrin and, indeed, of all the lower courts must also receive the special semicha that Moshe bestowed upon Yehoshua authorizing him to rule on all areas of Jewish law. This special semicha, which existed from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until sometime during the era of the Gemara, authorized the recipient to rule on capital and corporal cases (chayavei misas beis din and malkus) and to judge cases involving kenasos, penalties that the Torah invoked. Only a beis din consisting exclusively of dayanim ordained with this semicha may judge these areas of halacha (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:1).

In today’s world, there are several levels of semicha, all of them of a lower level than that granted by Moshe Rabbeinu. The most basic semicha, yoreh yoreh, authorizes the recipient to rule on matters of kashrus and similar areas. A more advanced level of semicha called yodin yodin authorizes its recipient to rule as a dayan on financial matters. A higher level, no longer obtainable today, is called yatir bechoros and authorizes its recipient to rule on whether a first-born animal is blemished and no longer acceptable as a korban, which permits the animal to be shechted for its meat (see Sanhedrin 5a).

The role of a local beis din

The local beis din’s responsibility in a community is also quite multi-faceted. They are not only the judicial branch of the government, charged with ruling on local dinei Torah and interpreting the halachos for local practice, but they are also the executive, or administrative, branch of government, responsible to supervise that the community and its individuals observe halacha fully and correctly. In this capacity, they are responsible to make sure that the weights and measures in the marketplace are honest (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 1:1) and that the prices charged by stores do not exceed what halacha permits. The local beis din is responsible to make sure that no one overcharges for staple products (ibid.; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 231:20).

Overseeing that the community observes halacha correctly is also a responsibility of the beis din. For example, the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch rule that beis din supervises that yomim tovim do not become the cause for inappropriate social activities. This includes assigning police to patrol parks and other relaxing areas to maintain proper standards of public conduct (Rambam, Hilchos Yom Tov 6:21, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 529:4). Beis din is responsible to make sure that duchening was performed only by kosher kohanim (Kesubos 25a). It is their job to make sure that no one works on chol hamoed in violation of the halacha (Rambam, Hilchos Yom Tov 7:4), that people keep their pledges to tzedakah (Rosh Hashanah 6a), that graves and other tamei meis areas are properly marked, and that people do not plantor maintain kelayim (Rambam, Hilchos Yom Tov 7:11).

The beis din assumes responsibility to protect individuals who cannot oversee their businesses or properties, such as, someone who fled to avoid danger, was kidnapped or captured. Beis din will appoint someone to manage the individual’s properties and businesses (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 285:2). They are also responsible to see that the properties of orphaned minors are properly managed (for example, see Shulchan Aruch Even Ha’ezer, 112:11).

Included in this responsibility is that, if a father cannot or does not give his son a bris milah, the beis din makes sure that the mitzvah is performed (Kiddushin 29a; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 261:1).

Smaller batei din

In addition to the officially appointed batei din, in earlier generations there were local batei din, appointed by a community to oversee its own matters. For example, the kohanim had their own batei din, who were authorized to make rules and new takanos that applied only to the kohanim (see Pesachim 90b; Kesubos 12a).

Chutz la’aretz

The Ramban (beginning of Parshas Shoftim) notes that the posuk implies that there is no requirement min haTorah to establish a beis din outside of Eretz Yisroel. This is because the Torah requires appointing judges and bailiffs in your gates, which means the gates of Jewish cities in Eretz Yisroel. However, the Ramban notes that the Gemara (Makkos 7a) rules that once Klal Yisroel arrives in and settles Eretz Yisroel, there is an obligation min haTorah to have a beis din in chutz la’aretz also, although not in every city, but only in “districts.”

Min haTorah or not?

The Ramban concludes that establishing batei din outside Eretz Yisroel isrequired min haTorah only when there are dayanim who have achieved the highest level of semicha, that which is a continuation of what Moshe Rabbeinu conferred on Yehoshua. As I mentioned above, this semicha was discontinued during the era of the Gemara. There have been several attempts to reestablish this semicha, the most famous of which was when the Mahari Beirav was the rav of Tzfas, and Rav Yosef Karo was a member of his beis din. However, none of these attempts succeeded. The Ramban concludes that, although we no longer have a Torah obligation to establish batei din in chutz la’aretz, there is a rabbinic requirement to do so.

How do we litigate?

Over the years, I have been asked many questions about the way batei din operate. Most of these questions stem from a misunderstanding of legal procedures in general, or from a lack of knowledge about how a beis din functions.

Here is a typical example, lifted from my records. The din Torah was the result of a business partnership that had soured. I received the following e-mail communication: “I have asked Mr. F. to tell me what he is claiming. He has not responded, but has clammed up about his claim. He knows what I am claiming and he said that I have to sign an arbitration agreement in beis din and only then will he present what he is claiming from me. I am asking if this is just — he knows what I am claiming but what he is claiming will be a surprise.”

I answered: “Mr. F. is under no obligation to reveal to you what he feels you owe him, without an agreement that the two of you will go to binding arbitration in beis din. Telling him the basis of your claims does not require him to reveal any information. If you feel that you can disprove his claims, you should tell that to the beis din, and you have a right to postpone the proceedings to allow you the time to present your proofs.

In the interim, you can agree to go to beis din, or you can suggest that the two of you discuss the matter in the presence of a disinterested party in the hope of negotiating some type of settlement. However, he is under no obligation to agree to this. If you receive a summons to beis din, you are required to respond.”

By the way, when choosing to go to a beis din, the almost-universal tendency is to find a beis din where I will “win” my case. However, the mitzvah specifies that you should go to the beis din that is most expert (Sanhedrin 32a). The Gemara implies that this is a mitzvah min haTorah, derived from the words in Parshas Shoftim, tzedek tzedek tirdof, which the Gemara explains to mean haleich achar beis din yafeh, “find the most expert beis din” to litigate your case, so that it is resolved correctly.

Turf wars

What do you do if the other party insists that you go to their choice of beis din?

I mentioned earlier that the Ramban explains that the dayanim of a sheivet have greater jurisdiction than do those of a city, who cannot force someone from outside their city to come before them for litigation. A sheivet’s beis din has the ability to force anyone in their sheivet to come to them for litigation. The same authority applies to a city’s beis din relative to a city’s inhabitants. Therefore, if our beis din system were able to work the way the Torah designed it, the official dayanim of a city would be able to require litigants to appear before them.

Because the countries in which we live will not compel halachic observance, we cannot legally coerce someone to appear before an official city beis din. But an observant Jew knows that he must appear before beis din when summoned.

The person being sued (the defendant) is usually assumed to have the right to choose which beis din will hear the case, as long as it is in his city of residence. However, this is not ironclad. If the defendant chooses a beis din that will be more expensive for the claimant, or he is trying simply to inconvenience the claimant, there is no right to choose this option over a more-convenient, less-expensive choice. If the defendant visits or does business in the city where the claimant lives, and the claimant rarely travels to the defendant’s city, the beis din in the claimant’s city can demand to judge the case (Shu”t Maharshdam #103; Shu”t Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 1:5; Shu”t Yabia Omer 7:Choshen Mishpat:4). Under these circumstances, a proper beis din will ignore the defendant’s request for choice of venue, and should he not respond to his summons, rule him a lo tzayis dina, someone who does not obey the laws of the Torah, which has many ramifications (Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 26:2, 5; Shu”t Imrei Yosher #38).

Conclusion

A Torah Jew must realize that Hashem’s Torah is all-encompassing, and that every aspect of his life is governed by Torah law. A Jew hopes to manage his business relationships without ever resorting to litigation. If there is an unfortunate “misunderstanding,” the two parties should discuss the matter and, if the matter remains unresolved, they should try discussing it with the guidance of a third party, possibly a rav. However, should all these approaches not succeed, the avenue of halachic litigation exists.




Only New Chometz Apply

Since parshas Bo includes the prohibitions about chometz on Pesach

Question #1: First Fruits

Which korbanos are offered only from “first fruits”?

Question #2: New Grains

Which korbanos are offered only from the new grain?

Question #3: Wheat from Heaven!

May korbanos be offered from heavenly-dropped wheat?

Foreword

Virtually all grain korbanos, called menachos (singular: mincha), are wheat, mankind’s most common basic sustenance. However, on the second day of Pesach, the korban omer is offered in the Beis Hamikdash from the new crop of barley. Indeed, it is the only barley-flour korban offered by the tzibur, the community. In general, barley is viewed as animal feed, rather than “people food” (see Pesachim 3b). (The only other korban from barley was the minchas sotah, a privately offered korban for which there is an obvious reason why it is from a feed grain, as Rashi [Bamidbar 5:15] and the midrashim [Midrash Agadah and Yalkut Shimoni ad loc.] elaborate.) Presumably, the reason that the korban omer was from barley is because barley ripens earlier than wheat and the korban omer permits the consumption of the new grain crop; the Torah did not delay until the wheat is ready for harvest.

In honor of Shavuos

Seven weeks later, on Shavuos, special korbanos, called the shetei halechem, are offered from the new wheat crop. Although this korban is kosher if made from the previous year’s wheat crop, there is a mitzvah min haTorah to bring it from the new crop. The offering of the shetei halechem permits the new crop to be used for menachos.

Introduction

Immediately after describing the korban omer, the Torah teaches: “And you shall each count seven complete weeks, from the morrow after that day of rest [the first day of Pesach], beginning on the day of your bringing the omer, which is waved. You shall count fifty days, until the morrow after the seventh week, at which time you shall offer a new grain offering to Hashem. From your dwelling places (Hebrew: ‘mimoshevoseichem’) you shall bring two loaves of bread. They (the two loaves together) shall comprise two tenths of an omer of fine flour. They shall be baked leavened (Hebrew: ‘chometz’) and be the first fruits unto Hashem (Hebrew: ‘bikkurim’). Together with the bread, you shall bring a group of seven yearling sheep and, also, one young bull and two rams. These (ten animals) will be olah offerings for Hashem, offered together with their appropriate grain offerings and libations. This is a fire offering, to show Hashem the fragrance of compliance” (Vayikra 23, 15-18; the translation of the word ניחוח follows that of Rav Hirsch). The Torah then completes the description, including that three more korbanos accompanied the shetei halechem, a male goat as a chatas and two yearling sheep as publically-owned korbanos shelamim, for a total of thirteen animal korbanos.

The Torah passage that I just quoted includes several interesting observations:

Receiving the Torah?

(1) Although calculation demonstrates that the holiday of Shavuos coincides with the giving of the Torah, neither here nor any other place does the Torah make any association between the two. This article will not discuss this famous question, to which there are many answers.

Imported grain

(2) We are told that the shetei halechem must be brought “from your dwelling places.” But grain is never grown in dwellings, but open fields!

The Gemara (Menachos 83b) explains that “dwelling place” here means Eretz Yisrael, and that, whereas other mincha offerings may use grain imported from outside Eretz Yisrael, shetei halechem may use only grain that grew in Eretz Yisrael (Mishnah Menachos 83b; Keilim 1:6; Parah 2:1).

Alef emphasis

(3) The word immediately after mimoshevoseichem in the Torah is תביאו, “you shall bring,” but the letter alef in that word contains a dagesh. However, an alef never otherwise has a dagesh. Why this anomaly? Rav Hirsch suggests that this is to emphasize the uniqueness of the shetei halechem as the only mincha in which the animal offerings are brought only as an accompaniment to the grain offering.

Chometz

(4) The Torah reports that the shetei halechem “shall be baked leavened.” This is very unusual. All grain offerings in the Beis Hamikdash must be unleavened – they all halachically qualify as matzah. Even the “leftovers” from all mincha offerings may not be allowed to become chometz (Vayikra 6:9-10)! A kohein who violates this last instruction intentionally could receive malkus, lashes, and would no longer be accepted as a witness!

There are only two exceptions – two instances of a grain offering in the Beis Hamikdash which is made from chometz: one of the four types of “bread” that accompanied the korban todah was chometz (Vayikra 7:13) and the shetei halechem of Shavuos (Mishnah, Menachos 52b). In both of these instances, the Torah states that they must be chometz.

The shetei halechem are the only public korbanos that are chometz, since the korban todah is an individual’s thanksgiving offering for surviving travail (Tehillim 100, 107 and Berachos 54b). Since the Torah states that no mincha “offered to Hashem” may be chometz (Vayikra 2:11), the chometz parts of these menachos are never placed on the mizbeiach, but are eaten in Yerushalayim while completely tahor, either by the kohanim and their families or by the owners of the korban.

Who is first?

(5) Furthermore, the Torah states that the shetei halechem must be bikkurim. Yet bikkurim usually means the fruits that a farmer grows in his field and brings to the Beis Hamikdash as his own thanks offering (see Devarim 26:1-11 and Mishnah, Mesechta Bikkurim). The Gemara explains that the word bikkurim, here, means that this year’s grain crops cannot be used for menachos before the shetei halechem has been offered. In addition, the Mishnah teaches that, what we usually call the bikkurim, the special, first-ripening fruits for which Eretz Yisrael is renowned, are not brought to the Beis Hamikdash until the shetei halechem korban is offered (Menachos 68b; see also Bikkurim 1:10).

Meat with bread

(6) The Torah states: “Together with the bread, you shall bring a group of seven yearling sheep and, also, one young bull and two rams.” These are not the korbanos musaf offered on Shavuos, which are mentioned in parshas Pinchas and are offered on Shavuos, even if no shetei halechem mincha is brought.

Virtually all grain offerings in the Beis Hamikdash are brought either without any animal korbanos, or to accompany the animal offerings. It is unusual that the main korban is one made from flour, and the animal offerings accompany the grain offerings; but that is the law regarding the shetei halechem. This is truly unique in the instance of the shetei halechem, since it is the only mincha that causes thirteen animal korbanos to be brought as a result. If the shetei halechem is not offered, these korbanos cannot be brought, but if these korbanos are not brought, the shetei halechem is kosher by itself.

The only other mincha that is the cause of the bringing of a korban is the korban omer, but in that case, only one korban is offered, a sheep. Shetei halechem are completely unique in that it is the only instance in which a grain offering causes the offering of a large group of korbanos.

Details, details:

In addition to these observations that lie directly in the pesukim themselves, there are a host of other unusual features that apply to the shetei halechem, such as:

1. The Mishnah (Menachos 59a) notes that the mincha of the shetei halechem is not accompanied by either oil or frankincense, unlike most mincha offerings. Why not?

To answer this question, I refer you to read, in detail, the commentary of Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 23:17).

2. The shetei halechem must be brought from grain that had not yet taken root prior to this year’s crop season (Mishnah, Menachos 83b; Parah 2:1; we should note the Rambam does not rule according to this Mishnah, a position that engenders much discussion). The shetei halechem permitted use of new grain in the Beis Hamikdash (Mishnah Menachos 68b). Menachos offered from the new grain before the korban omer was offered were invalid, whereas those offered before the shetei halechem were brought were kosher, although a Torah violation was involved in bringing them (Menachos 68b). I will return to this halacha shortly.

3. Although you may bake bread, challah, cake or cookies on Yom Tov to serve on that day, and the korbanos to be brought on that day (such as korbanos musaf and korban pesach) are shechted, butchered and burnt on the mizbeiach on Shabbos and certainly on Yom Tov, the shetei halechem could not be baked on Shavuos (Menachos 95b and 100b). The reason they could not be baked on Yom Tov is because baking and cooking on Yom Tov are permitted only to benefit Jews who will be celebrating Yom Tov, but it is prohibited to bake a korban on Yom Tov. Although korbanos are brought on Yom Tov, this applies only to the processing of the korban necessary to be performed that day. The baking of the menachos, similar to the baking of the twelve loaves of the lechem hapanim (the showbread) for Shabbos, could be performed before Shabbos or Yom Tov, and therefore the two loaves of the shetei halechem must be baked before Yom Tov.

Many halachic authorities raise the following question: Why can’t you bake your own private bread on Yom Tov for Yom Tov use, and, while doing do, bake the shetei halechem? There is much discussion among acharonim regarding this question, without any specifically accepted answer.

4. The shetei halechem and the two shelamim sheep offered with it were held up by the kohein and waved in six directions – upwards and downwards and in four directions of the globe, similar to the way the lulav and esrog are waved on Sukkos (Mishnah Menachos 61a).

5. The Mishnah teaches that ten miracles occurred in the Beis Hamikdash, one of which was that the korban omer and the shetei halechem were never invalidated by a pesul in which something unplanned went wrong (Pirkei Avos 5:5).

Heavenly wheat!

In this context, we have the following unusual passage of Gemara: “What is the halacha regarding wheat that fell from the clouds? Can it be used for the shetei halechem offering?”

Rashi and his grandson, Rabbeinu Tam, disagreed regarding what case is being described here. Rabbeinu Tam understands that the Gemara is discussing wheat that miraculously fell from heaven, similar to the way the mann in the desert arrived every morning. As traditionally explained, the berocha recited before eating the mann was “Hamamtir lechem min hashamayim,” “Blessed are You, Hashem… Who rains bread from the sky” (quoted by Shu’t Torah Lishmah #63, in the name of the Rama MiFano).

The Radbaz (Hilchos Temidim Umusafim, 8:3) is dissatisfied with Rabbeinu Tam’s approach, noting that Hashem brings miracles only when a major reason exists for them.

Stormy wheat

For these and other reasons, most late authorities prefer Rashi’s approach that the Gemara is discussing wheat that was blown by gale-force winds off a ship in the Mediterranean, or perhaps were on an island in the Mediterranean Sea, and then landed in Eretz Yisrael. We do not necessarily know the origin of the wheat; just that it landed in Eretz Yisrael.

Following either Rashi’s approach or that of his grandson, the Torah states that the shetei halechem must be offered from grain that grew mimoshevoseichem, from your dwelling places, and we learned above that this requires that shetei halechem must use wheat that grew in Eretz Yisrael. The question is whether this wheat, either the miraculous variety of Rabbeinu Tam’s version, or the windswept variety of Rashi’s, qualifies as wheat that grew mimoshevoseichem. (Our intrepid readers are referred to the commentary of the Mahari Kurkus on the Rambam, Hilchos Temidim Umusafim, 8:3, who analyses this issue.)

Brought too early

Regarding the shetei halechem offering, the Gemara presents the following intriguing anecdote. As I mentioned above, the Mishnah states that both the korban omer and the shetei halechem must be offered from the new crop (the korban omer from the new barley crop, and shetei halechem from the new wheat crop). The Mishnah also states that it was forbidden to eat from the new grain crop before the korban omer was offered, which is the prohibition of chodosh, and it is forbidden to offer a grain korban from the new crop until after the shetei halechem are offered. But, regarding a mincha from the new grain crop that is brought before the shetei halechem, the Mishnah makes the following distinction: If the new grain mincha was brought before the korban omer was offered on the second day of Pesach, the mincha is invalid, whereas if such a korban was brought after the korban omer was offered but before the shetei halechem, the mincha is kosher, notwithstanding that it is prohibited min haTorah to offer such a korban mincha.

Rabbi Tarfon, an older contemporary of Rabbi Akiva and one of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, queried why the offering of the korban omer, whose purpose was to permit the new grain to be eaten, should affect whether a mincha offered in the Beis Hamikdash is kosher or not?

A budding young scholar named Yehudah bar Nechemiah (besides this passage of Gemara, his name appears in several midrashim, mostly Midrash Rabbah and Midrash Tanchuma) answered Rabbi Tarfon with a brilliant insight: Prior to the bringing of the korban omer, the new grain qualifies as ma’achalos asuros, foods that a Jew is prohibited from eating – and there is a halacha that one cannot offer korbanos from products that a Jew may not consume. On the other hand, once the korban omer is offered, it is permitted to eat the new grain. It cannot be used for menachos because of a different law — the Torah refers to the shetei halechem as mincha chadasha, meaning that they should be the first korbanos offered from the new wheat crop. Should a different mincha be brought first from the new wheat crop, the shetei halechem are no longer mincha chadasha.

Yehudah bar Nechemiah argued that prior to the offering of the korban omer, the new grain has the status of ma’achalos asuros, which are never acceptable as korbanos, even after the fact (be’dei’evid). However, once the korban omer is offered, although it is still prohibited to use the new grain for menachos, we find many instances in which it is not proper to offer a korban a certain way, but be’dei’evid, after the fact, the korban is still kosher. Rabbi Tarfon was silent, implying that he accepted Yehudah bar Nechemiah’s response.

Rabbi Akiva, who, among other great luminaries of the era, was in attendance during this discussion, noted that Yehudah bar Nechemiah was smiling – demonstrating that he was personally satisfied to have bested a gadol beYisrael in a Torah discussion. Rabbi Akiva realized that Yehudah bar Nechemiah was afflicted with a very bad shortcoming – misplaced personal pride. Rabbi Akiva then forecast, within Yehudah bar Nechemiah’s earshot.

“Yehudah, I will be surprised if you’ll live a long time!” This was not intended as a curse, but a prediction.

The Gemara then quotes from the famous tanna, Rabbi Yehudah (the son of Rav Ila’ii), who was also present during this exchange. Rabbi Yehudah shared that the discussion between Rabbi Tarfon and Yehudah bar Nechemiah took place two weeks before Pesach, and that when he, Rabbi Yehudah (who lived in the southern part of Eretz Yisrael) returned for Shavuos to the beis hamedrash of the Sanhedrin, he did not find Yehudah bar Nechemiah. When Rabbi Yehudah inquired about Yehudah bar Nechemiah’s wellbeing, he was told that Yehudah bar Nechemiah had passed away suddenly in the interim.

This very tragic turn of events brings to mind both the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples (which occurred shortly after the sudden passing of Yehudah bar Nechemiah) and the much earlier tragedy of the sudden deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the two oldest sons of Aharon. In all of these instances, young, brilliant Torah scholars were suddenly taken because of personal character flaws. As implied by the midrash, had these young, great scholars become the leaders of the Jewish people, this would have caused irreparable damage to our mesorah. Klal Yisrael survives only when those who carry on the mesorah do so solely because of their obligation to Hashem, not because of personal interest.

Conclusion

Do we live with a burning desire to see the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days? Studying the halachos of the korbanos should help us develop our sensitivity and desire to see the Beis Hamikdash again in all its glory. May we soon merit seeing the kohanim offering all the korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash in purity and sanctity and Klal Yisrael in our rightful place in Eretz Yisrael, as a light unto the nations!




A Rishon Letzion Named Rapaport

Question #1: Fragrances on Motza’ei Yom Tov

May I include fragrances as part of havdalah when Yom Tov ends?

Question #2: Late Asher Yatzar

How long do I have to recite Asher Yatzar?

Question #3: Davening Outdoors

Is it permitted to daven in the courtyard outside a shul?

Question #4: A Rishon Letzion Named Rapaport

What do any of these questions have to do with parshas Shemos?

Foreword:

Rishon Letziyon is an old traditional title for the Sefardi rav of Yerushalayim. How did someone named Rapaport, which is a classic Ashkenazi family name, become Rishon Letziyon?

Introduction:

Parshas Shemos teaches that, for disobeying Pharaoh’s murderous commands, the Jewish midwives merited the “building of houses.” This is explained by the Midrash, quoted by Rashi, to mean that they were granted batei kehunah and batei malchus. Miriam was rewarded with batei malchus, that the royal house of Dovid Hamelech descended from her, and Yocheved merited batei kehunah — all kohanim are descended from her. The words batei kehunah mean “houses of kehunah,” which is a bit strange: why don’t Chazal simply call it beis kehunah, “the house of kehunah?” Although we will not answer this question, it became the source of the title of an important halachic work.

Batei Kehunah

A gadol beYisroel who lived three hundred years ago was descended from kohanim on both his father’s and his mother’s sides. Based on his lineage, he named his Torah works Batei Kehunah. This gadol, who is hardly known in the Ashkenazi world, carried the name Rav Yitzchak HaKohen Rapaport. He was the chacham bashi — a title for chief rabbi of a large city — in the Ottoman Empire, first of Izmir, Turkey, and subsequently became both the chacham bashi and the Rishon Letziyon of Yerushalayim. In numerous places, the Chida refers to the Batei Kehunah as the mofeis hador, or as mofeis doroseinu, “the wonder of our generation.” Considering that this was the same era in which lived such luminaries as the Gra, the Pnei Yehoshua, the Sha’agas Aryeh, the Noda Biyehudah, the Maharit Algazi and the Chida himself, this is a rather impressive accolade.

Rav Yitzchak Hakohen Rapaport

Rav Yitzchak Hakohen Rapaport was born in Jerusalem in 5445 (1685) to Rabbi Yehudah Rapaport. Rav Yitzchak’s father was born in Lublin, Poland, made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, and there married the daughter of a family of major Torah scholars, who were kohanim and Sefardim. Thus, although Rav Yitzchak’s father had been born in Poland, hence the family name Rapaport, he was raised in a completely Sefardi environment. There was no Ashkenazi community in Eretz Yisrael at the time, and therefore Rav Yitzchak treated himself completely as a Sefardi. This explains how a Rishon Letzion could have such an Ashkenazi last name.

In his youth, Rav Yitzchak studied in the yeshiva of the Pri Chodosh, Rav Chizkiyah Di Silva. In his introduction to Batei Kehunah, Rav Yitzchak explains that he never left the beis medrash for fear that he would miss some of his rebbe’s Torah or that of the other great men who studied there. After the Pri Chodosh’s premature passing (according to various versions, he was somewhere between the ages of 39 and 46 when he passed away), Rav Yitzchak studied under the new rosh yeshiva, Rav Avraham Yitzchak, the author of the work Zera Avraham, another work well known in Sefardi circles, but that receives reactions of “what is that” among Ashkenazim.

Although Rav Yitzchak Rapaport always viewed himself as a resident of Yerushalayim, he served as the rav of Izmer for forty years, after which he returned to Yerushalayim, and was then appointed chacham bashi of the Holy City and Rishon Letzion. Among the Batei Kehunah’s many brilliant students, both from his period in Turkey and in Yerushalayim, we find an entire generation of gedolei Yisroel: the Maharit Algazi, the Chida, the Shaar Hamelech, the Ma’aseh Rokeach and Rav Mordechai Rebbiyo, the rav and rosh yeshivah of Hevron, author of the teshuvos Shemen Hamor.

Since this is a halachic column, I will discuss some of the interesting halachic positions of the Batei Kehunah, most of which we know because they are quoted by the Chida, who perused the private library of the Batei Kehunah after the latter’s passing in 5515 (1755). The library included notes written in the margins of his seforim, unpublished teshuvos and other private writings and manuscripts that the Chida quoted, predominantly in his Birkei Yosef commentary to the Shulchan Aruch, most of which would otherwise have become lost to future generations.

Fragrances on Motza’ei Yom Tov

Our opening question was: “May I include fragrances as part of havdalah when Yom Tov ends?” Let me explain the background to this question. The Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 29:28) writes that when Yom Tov falls out midweek, at its end we are not required to recite the berachos on fragrances and on a lamp, unlike what we do every motza’ei Shabbos. The Rambam explains that we recite the beracha on fragrances on motza’ei Shabbos because our souls ache when Shabbos ends, and we provide them with some consolation with the pleasant fragrance. The Magid Mishnah raises the following questions about the Rambam’s statement:

(1) Indeed, why is the custom that we not smell fragrances when Yom Tov ends, just as we do when Shabbos ends?

(2) Why does the Rambam write that “we are not required to recite the beracha on fragrances?” Shouldn’t he write that we do not recite the  beracha on fragrances?

The Magid Mishnah answers that the soul aches only when Shabbos ends, because the sanctity of Shabbos is greater, as evidenced by the fact that we are not permitted to perform any melacha. Since cooking food and similar melachos are permitted on Yom Tov, the soul does not ache when Yom Tov ends.

If this is so, the Magid Mishnah asks, why do we not recite the beracha on fragrances as part of the kiddush/havdalah combination when Yom Tov is on motza’ei Shabbos, since the soul aches that Shabbos has ended? The Magid Mishnah answers that the festive celebration of Yom Tov consoles the aching soul the same way that fragrances would, thus rendering the use of besamim unnecessary. The Magid Mishnah then notes that the Rambam writes, “we are not required to recite the berachos on fragrances” when Yom Tov ends, because one can always take fragrances and recite a beracha before smelling them.

The Yad Aharon questions the wording of the Magid Mishnah that the custom is to not recite the beracha over fragrances as part of havdalah on Yom Tov. Would this not be an interruption in the havdalah, since it is not required?

The Chida (Birkei Yosef 491:3) quotes his rebbe, the Batei Kehunah, who wrote in the margin of his own personal copy of the Rambam that the Magid Mishneh wrote his comments very precisely. There would be no problem were someone to include besamim in his havdalah after Yom Tov. And the reason why the minhag is to forgo the besamim is because the soul does not ache when Yom Tov ends to the same extent that it does when Shabbos ends.

Late Asher Yatzar

At this point, let us analyze the second of our opening questions: How long do I have to recite Asher Yatzar?

The Levush discusses whether someone who does not have a need to relieve himself upon awaking recites Asher Yatzar anyway. He rules that he recites Asher Yatzar, because he undoubtedly relieved himself during the night without reciting Asher Yatzar – thus, he has an outstanding requirement to recite Asher Yatzar. The Adei Zahav, an early commentary on the Levush by Rav Menachem de Lunzanu, disagrees with the Levush, contending that, even if the Levush’s technical assumptions are correct – that we should assume that most people relieved themselves during the night without reciting Asher Yatzar – a person should still not recite Asher Yatzar upon awaking, because the time within which Asher Yatzar must be recited has expired by morning. The Adei Zahav rules that Asher Yatzar must be recited no more than six hours after relieving himself, and during the long winter nights, someone presumably has slept longer than that since he last relieved himself.

What is the source for the Adei Zahav’s ruling that Asher Yatzar must be recited within six hours? The Mishnah (Berachos 51b) states that you can recite an after blessing until the food that was eaten has been digested. The Gemara (Berachos 53b) discusses how long a time this is, Rabbi Yochanan ruling that it is until you are hungry again, whereas Reish Lakish seems to hold that it is the time it takes to walk four mil, which most authorities understand to be 72 minutes. (Some hold that it is a bit longer.) The Adei Zahav assumes that, according to Rabbi Yochanan, it takes six hours for someone to be hungry again after eating a full meal. The Adei Zahav explains that the time for Asher Yatzar, which is a rabbinic requirement, cannot be longer than it is for bensching, which is required min haTorah. Therefore, he concludes that the longest time within which someone can recite Asher Yatzar is six hours after relieving himself.

Never too late

The Yad Aharon disagrees with the Adei Zahav, contending that although an after beracha is associated with the food or beverage that was consumed and, therefore, can be recited only as long as one is still satiated from what he ate, Asher Yatzar is a general beracha of thanks to Hashem and never becomes too late to recite. This approach would explain the position of the Levush that someone can recite Asher Yatzar in the morning, notwithstanding that it might be far more than six hours since he relieved himself.

The Chida, after quoting the above literature, states, “The mofeis of our generation, our master and rebbe, wrote in the margin of his personal copy that the Yad Aharon’s understanding is inaccurate. The rishonim explain that berachos after eating are appreciation… Asher Yatzar is a beracha for the salvation and also for the relief of the discomfort” (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 6:3). Later in his comments, the Chida explains that the Batei Kehunah held that Asher Yatzar has an expiration time, although he never shared with us how long he holds that would be.

There are other reasons to support the Levush’s position that someone should recite Asher Yatzar upon waking in the morning, even if he has no need to relieve himself. The Bach explains that Asher Yatzar should be treated like any other of the morning daily berachos, birkos hashachar, which most authorities assume are recited even if someone did not have a specific reason to recite them – such as, he is not wearing shoes or he is unable to rise from bed. Thus, even if someone had no need to use the facilities upon arising, he still should recite Asher Yatzar in the morning. This position is held by many other poskim, particularly the Rema (Orach Chayim 4:1), although he does not explain why he holds this way (see Magen Avraham 4:2; Elyah Rabbah 4:1; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 6:1; Mishnah Berurah 4:3). However, the Levush appears to disagree with this opinion of his rebbe, the Rema, and the Bach, implying that only someone who relieves himself recites the beracha Asher Yatzar, a position held by many other authorities (Arizal; Adei Zahav; Birkei Yosef).

The Levush himself (Orach Chayim 7:3) notes that the laws of Asher Yatzar should not be compared to the laws of berachos on food, since reciting Asher Yatzar is part of nature (we refer in English to a “call of nature”), whereas when and what we eat is an individual’s choice. The Levush and the Elyah Zuta (4: 1) both contend that this last distinction means that there is no time limit for reciting Asher Yatzar; however, the Chida questions whether this distinction makes any difference. In yet a third place (Orach Chayim 47:6 in his sidenote), the Levush again alludes to this topic, contending that, like the berachos prior to studying Torah, Asher Yatzar is not dependent on the time it takes to digest food.

Other acharonim add another idea. The beracha of Asher Yatzar includes an acknowledgement that there are apertures in the body that must remain open. Since this is something that we must acknowledge always, it is always appropriate to recite this beracha. Furthermore, the beracha of Asher Yatzar includes acknowledgement of the removal of ruach ra, which happens when we wash our hands upon awakening and when washing our hands after using the facilities. As such, Asher Yatzar is always appropriate upon awaking in the morning (Bach; Elyah Rabbah).

Among the many opinions explaining the Levush, many differences in halacha result. If the time for reciting Asher Yatzar never expires, someone who forgot to recite Asher Yatzar after relieving himself, when he remembers he should recite Asher Yatzar, regardless of how much time has transpired. According to the Adei Zahav, he should recite Asher Yatzar only within six hours of relieving himself.

Davening Outdoors

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions: “Is it permitted to daven in the courtyard outside a shul?”

Based on a verse in Daniel (6:11), the Gemara (Berachos 34b) rules that a person should daven in a building that has windows. Rashi explains that looking at the sky humbles a person, causing him to daven with greater kavanah. The Gemara then quotes Rav Kahana that davening in an open field is considered an act of chutzpah. Rashi explains that davening in a place that is relatively notexposed, rather than an open field, creates greater fear of the King, and the individual’s stubborn heart is broken.

The poskim explain that this refers to a situation where the person has an alternative. However, someone traveling, and the best place to daven is an open field, may daven there, and it is not a chutzpah (Magen Avraham; Mishnah Berurah).

Tosafos asks: According to the Gemara, when Yitzchak went lasuach basadeh (Bereishis 24:63), he went to pray (Berachos 26b), so how could Rav Kahana call this an act of chutzpah?

Tosafos provides two answers to his question.

(1) Yitzchak went to Har Hamoriyah to daven, which is where the Beis Hamikdash would be built, implying that this is certainly a place that will create greater fear of Heaven and more humility.

(2) Rav Kahana is discouraging davening in an open place, where his prayer may be disturbed by passersby, whereas Yitzchak was in an area where there was no one to disturb him.

According to the second answer of Tosafos, there is nothing wrong with davening in a place that is completely exposed, as long as he is comfortable that no one will disturb his prayers. According to his first answer, this is not true. We should note that Rashi’s reason disagrees with Tosafos’s second answer, and Rashi may accept Tosafos’s first reason (see next paragraph).

The Beis Yosef questions Tosafos’s second answer: why did Rav Kahana say that davening outdoors is a chutzpah? The concern is not of chutzpah, but because he will get distracted. For this reason, he follows the first reason of Tosafos in his Shulchan Aruch, and quotes Rashi’s reasoning: “A person should not pray in an open area, such as a field, because someone in a non-exposed place has greater fear of the King and his heart is broken” (Orach Chayim 90:5). We should note that several prominent poskim provide various explanations why Tosafos was not bothered by the Beis Yosef’s question (see Perisha, Bach, Taz, Magein Giborim, all in Orach Chayim 90).

The Magen Avraham (90:6) adds to this discussion by quoting the Zohar that implies that a person should daven inside a building. The Chida reports to us that the Batei Kehunah wrote a great deal about this topic. He concluded that it is sufficient if the area is enclosed, but it is not necessary for it to be roofed. The Birkei Yosef (Orach Chayim 90:2) notes that great rabbis often pray in the unroofed courtyards of shullen.

The Mishnah Berurah concludes this topic with the following ruling: Notwithstanding that the Shulchan Aruch rejected Tosafos’s approach, many acharonim justify this answer that it is acceptable to daven outdoors in a place where someone will not be disturbed. A traveler may daven outdoors, but should preferably daven under trees, if practical. However, someone who is home should not rely on this, and should daven indoors (Mishnah Berurah 90:11). Thus, it would seem that, according to the Mishnah Berurah, it is incorrect to daven outdoors in the courtyard of a shul when he has the option of davening in the shul itself. On the other hand, Sefardim, who tend to follow the conclusions of the Chida, probably have a strong halachic basis to daven inside gates, even if there is no roof above them, relying on the Chida who followed the ruling of his rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Rapaport, the author of the Batei Kehunah.

Conclusion:

The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them! Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of all Klal Yisrael!




This Land Is My Land!

Yaakov plans to return to Eretz Yisrael…

Question #1: This Land is My Land!

How do we take possession of Eretz Yisrael?

Question #2: This Land is Your Land

How do you make Eretz Yisrael into “your” land?

Question #3: From California

How far west does Eretz Yisrael extend?

Introduction

In honor of a parsha in which Yaakov must leave Eretz Yisrael, with assurances that future generations will return, it behooves us to emphasize some of the special qualities for which Eretz Yisrael is so famous. Let us begin by mentioning some of the many pronouncements of Chazal regarding the uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael:

Eretz Yisrael was created first, before any other part of the world” (Ta’anis 10b). “Hashem Himself waters Eretz Yisrael directly” (Ta’anis 10b). The Gemara teaches that there was no mabul in Eretz Yisrael (Zevachim 113a). It also states that Eretz Yisrael lacks nothing (Berachos 36b; Yoma 81b; Sukkah 35a).

The centrality of Eretz Yisrael to all our prayers is expressed in the halacha, based on Shelomoh Hamelech’s tefillah when he dedicated the Beis Hamikdash (Melachim 1:8:48; Divrei Hayamim 2:6:38), that we face Eretz Yisrael when we pray (Berachos 30a).

Then there are the many halachic unique qualities to Eretz Yisrael. As we know, most agricultural mitzvos, including bikkurim, terumos, ma’asros, leket, shikcha, peah, peret, oleilus and shevi’is apply only in Eretz Yisrael, and most of the laws of kelayim, orlah, and revai’i apply min haTorah only in Eretz Yisrael.

The Gemara (Sotah 14a) asks: Why did Moshe desire so much to enter Eretz Yisrael? Was it because he wanted to enjoy its fruits? The Gemara answers that he wanted to fulfill the mitzvos that can be observed only in Eretz Yisrael!

There are mitzvos that are not agricultural that can be observed only in Eretz Yisrael. For example, the mitzvah of challah applies min haTorah only to dough kneaded in Eretz Yisrael.

A much more basic mitzvah is the requirement every month to establish and declare which day is rosh chodeshkiddush hachodesh — and to determine each year whether it should be a leap year containing thirteen months — ibur shanah — or a common year containing only twelve months, which requires the decision of a special beis din that meets in Eretz Yisrael (Berachos 63a). Thus, the creation of all our Yomim Tovim is dependent on the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael. (Hillel Hanasi introduced the use of our current calendar, which is based completely on calculation and not on observation. He realized that there would no longer be a beis din in Eretz Yisrael able to fulfill this mitzvah, and, therefore, it was required and necessary to implement a backup calendar with all the decisions predetermined and automatic.)

This land is my land!

An even greater emphasis on the primacy of Eretz Yisrael in keeping all the mitzvos can be noted in the following comments of the Sifrei, Rashi and the Ramban. To quote the Sifrei (Parshas Eikev #43), “Although I am exiling you, you will still be noticeably different because you perform mitzvos. This way, when you return to Eretz Yisrael, keeping mitzvos will not be a novel experience for you. We can compare this to a king who became angry at his wife and sent her back to her father’s house. Yet, at the same time, he instructed her, ‘Remember to wear your royal jewelry, so that upon your return, you will not find it foreign to dress like a queen.’ So, too, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Yisrael: ‘My sons, always be distinguished by doing mitzvos so that, when you return, they will not be unfamiliar to you.’” Even non-agricultural mitzvos, such as mezuzah and tefillin, apply in chutz la’aretz in order to keep us in the habit of observing mitzvos (Rashi, Devarim 11:18). From this Sifrei, we see that the primary place for observing all mitzvos, even the non-agricultural ones, is in Eretz Yisrael (Ramban, Vayikra 18:25; see also Ramban, Devarim 11:18).

One of the blessings of Eretz Yisrael is that its air makes one  wise (Bava Basra 158b). The Gemara states that ten units of wisdom arrived in the world and Eretz Yisrael took nine of them (Kiddushin 49b).

Eretz Yisrael is compared to a deer or an antelope. Aside from their natural grace and beauty, these gorgeous creations of Hashem possess a hide that stretches to cover all their innards. When the animal is skinned, its hide shrinks, such that it is hard to imagine how it possibly was sufficient to enclose the animal. Similarly, Eretz Yisrael, which is called eretz tzvi, “the beautiful land,” appears too small to provide residence and sustenance for all its inhabitants, yet it “stretches” to make available everything that all its residents need (Kesubos 112a; Gittin 57a).

How can we demonstrate our love for Eretz Yisrael? The Gemara reports that Rabbi Yosi bar Chanina kissed the gate of Akko, which was the halachic border of Eretz Yisrael in his day (Yerushalmi, Shevi’is 4:7).

This land is your land

How do you make Eretz Yisrael into “your” land?

The Gemara (Berachos 5a) teaches that “three wonderful gifts, olam haba, Eretz Yisrael and Torah, were granted to the Jewish people, but each can be acquired only through difficulties (yissurin).” As anyone who moves to Eretz Yisrael will attest, aliyah never happens without serious hitches. Growth in Torah learning requires much sacrifice, as does achieving the rewards awaiting us in olam haba. All these require major personal investment. But, to the extent that one endures difficulty, he internalizes “possession” of them. Thus, it is impossible to take possession of olam haba, Eretz Yisrael or Torah without encountering and surmounting obstacles on the way.

Taking these ideas further is a statement (Pesachim 113a) that someone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael inherits olam haba. Even more is conveyed by a different passage of Gemara (Kesubos 111a), that someone who walks just four amos in Eretz Yisrael is guaranteed olam haba!

The midrash teaches that five things are more cherished by Hashem than the worlds of heaven and earth that He created. One of these five things is Jews settling in Eretz Yisrael.

The Gemara also states that the shuls andthe batei midrash of chutz la’aretz will be transported to Eretz Yisrael (Megillah 29a).

From California

How far west does Eretz Yisrael extend?

Eretz Yisrael does not stretch as far west as California. Let us briefly discuss the westernmost parts of Eretz Yisrael, as described by various pesukim in Tanach. Every mention of the borders of Eretz Yisrael defines its western border simply as the “Yam Hagadol,” the “Great Sea.” (Although there are seas larger than the Mediterranean, it is called the “Great Sea” because of its relationship to Eretz Yisrael. In other words, it is considered “great” not because of its own qualities — it is “great” because anything associated with Eretz Yisrael is great!)

What about islands in the Mediterranean? Are they part of Eretz Yisrael?

This question is the subject of a dispute among tanna’im. According to Rabbi Yehudah, bodies of land due west of Eretz Yisrael are part of Eretz Yisrael. However, accepted halacha follows the opinion of the chachamim who draw an imaginary line from the northwestern corner of Eretz Yisrael to its southwestern border, Nachal Mitzrayim and include in Eretz Yisrael only islands in that easternmost part of the Mediterranean (Gittin 8a).

Where will I find the northwestern corner of Eretz Yisrael on my map of the Middle East?

From the redwood forest

North of the land that most people identify with Eretz Yisrael are the famous cedars of Lebanon. However, most opinions consider the Promised Land to include current day Lebanon, or at least significant areas of it, as part of Eretz Yisrael. In the various Biblical descriptions of the borders of the Holy Land, we can observe that one location in the north, Har Hahor, figures prominently. First, I must note that the mountain called Har Hahor where Aharon was buried is a different place from the northern boundary marker of Eretz Yisrael. The reason why two different mountains would both be called Har Hahor is because the term means simply “the mountain of the mountain,” what Rashi describes as “an apple situated on top of another apple” — a mountain with a higher vertical rising peak on top. Thus, Har Hahor is as much a description as a name, and refers both to Aharon’s burial place, a mountain outside the southern or southeastern boundary of Eretz Yisrael, and to any one of the many choices suggested for Israel’s northwestern border, where the northern border reaches the sea.

I am aware of at least six different mountains identified as the Har Hahor of the northwestern-most point of Eretz Yisrael. All are mountains located on the eastern Mediterranean coast, all are north of what is today’s modern State of Israel, and each has this feature of a mountain with a mountainous peak rising on top. In other words, all opinions agree that true Eretz Yisrael spreads north of the borders of the current state. Opinions as to how far north will indeed be ultimately “ours” range from Lebanon, all the way up to Turkey. In other words, the consensus is that there are coastal areas north of Rosh Hanikra that are properly part of Eretz Yisrael, yet it is uncertain how far north.

To the Gulf Stream waters

Thus far we have discussed the western and northern borders of Eretz Yisrael; now we will discuss the southern border. In Parshas Mas’ei (Bamidbar 34), the Torah defines the easternmost point of the southern border of Eretz Yisrael to be the Dead Sea (Bamidbar 34:3), and its westernmost point to be Nachal Mitzrayim, the Stream of Egypt. We should first note that Avraham Avinu was promised from “Nahar Mitzrayim, the River of Egypt, whereas in Parshas Mas’ei, we are promised from the Stream of Egypt. Are these the same body of water? Indeed, Targum Yerushalmi explains both terms as referring to the Nile. Others do not. If so, what was Avraham promised, and why did we not receive it?

The Malbim (commentary to Bamidbar 34:2) explains that the borders promised at the end of Parshas Eikev (Devarim 11:24) reflect a promise for the future, when the Jewish people will acquire much more territory than what was possessed in the days of Yehoshua.

According to this approach, no part of Egypt is yet part of Eretz Yisrael. Similarly, others contend that the Stream of Egypt is the Wadi El Arish in the northeastern part of the Sinai Desert, whereas the River of Egypt is the Nile. According to this approach, Avraham Avinu was promised that, one day, his descendants would have much more extensive holdings to the south and southwest than they have ever controlled in history, even after Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal and captured the Egyptian Third Army to end the Yom Kippur War. (The Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal both lie east of the Nile and the area in between is the breadbasket and cotton growing area of Egypt.) Avraham Avinu was promised the land of ten nations, including Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, which Rashi (Bereishis 15:19) equates with Edom, Moav and Amon, but these are not the borders of Benei Yisrael’s territory when we entered the land in the days of Yehoshua. Until the era of moshiach, Klal Yisrael received the land of only seven of those ten nations, the rest going to other family members of Avraham Avinu, including the descendants of Amon and Moav, Avraham’s grandnieces, and of Eisav.

This land was made for you and me!

The Ramban (Devarim 11:24) explains the verses at the end of Parshas Eikev differently, understanding that those borders describe the area that we are commanded to conquer. This is consistent with his opinion that one of the taryag mitzvos requires that we conquer Eretz Yisrael, a topic in which both Rashi and the Rambam appear to disagree with him, and which we will leave for a different time.

I roamed and rambled

On the other hand, some major commentaries interpret the Stream of Egypt of Parshas Mas’ei to be the Nile, not the Wadi el Arish, making the Eretz Yisrael promised to Yehoshua far more expansive in the south and southwest. Since much of Cairo is on the eastern bank of the Nile, this approach considers that part of Cairo to be located in Eretz Yisrael!

I’ve followed my footsteps

Thus far, we have noted that the western border of Eretz Yisrael is the Mediterranean Sea. The middle of Eretz Yisrael originally had a very narrow “waist,” bound on its east by the Jordan River. The lands to the east of the Jordan were chutz la’aretz.

The sparkling sands

How did Transjordan, the land to the eastern part of the Jordan River, become part of Eretz Yisrael?

The answer is that the Benei Yisrael did not have a mitzvah to conquer Transjordan. Klal Yisrael requested permission to travel through the lands of Sichon in order to enter the Holy Land from the east. Sichon came to attack the Benei Yisrael, and, in this battle, Sichon, Og and their entire armies were eliminated. As spoils of war, everything they owned, including their extensive holdings east of the Jordan River, became the property of Benei Yisrael and, henceforth, all the laws of Eretz Yisrael apply. But only because Sichon and Og attacked the Jewish people and not because of any divine promise.

That golden valley

This background introduces a new question: When Dovid Hamelech conquered what the Gemara calls “Suria,” a huge tract of land east and north of the Jordan, the Mishnah and Gemara rule that it did not have the status of Eretz Yisrael because of a principle the Gemara calls: kibush yachid lav shemei kibush, literally, “the conquest of an individual is not considered a conquest.” But why not? What is the difference between Moshe Rabbeinu’s capture of Transjordan from Sichon and Og, which is now part of Eretz Yisrael, and Dovid Hamelech’s capture of Suria, which remains outside Eretz Yisrael? Was Dovid Hamelech’s conquest inferior to that of Moshe Rabbeinu?

Responding to this question created much literature among the rishonim. Among the approaches we find:

1. Dovid Hamelech conquered Suria to be a personal possession and did not involve the entire nation of Yisrael in its conquest (Rashi, Gittin 8b s. v. kivush).

2. The Rambam seems to hold a very similar approach, that conquered land becoming part of Eretz Yisrael is dependent on the involvement of most of the Jewish people, or acting as agency for the Jewish people (Hilchos Terumos 1:2).

3. At the time that Dovid Hamelech conquered Suria, the Benei Yisrael had as yet not taken possession of all of the land that they were supposed to acquire. Once the lands that the Jews were commanded in Parshas Mas’ei have been conquered, any land additionally conquered will have the halacha of Eretz Yisrael, but not land conquered earlier (Tosafos, Gittin 8a s. v. kivush).

Her diamond deserts

Although we have just demonstrated that the lands of Transjordan became endowed with the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, and that, therefore, virtually all the laws of Eretz Yisrael apply to them, they still are not fully considered the Holy Land. For example, the midrash criticizes the tribes of Gad and Reuvein for prioritizing wrongly when they asked to receive their inherited lands in Transjordan. To quote the midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah, Parshas Matos 22, 7), which compares them to Korach and Haman (!?), “Similarly, we find that the Benei Gad and the Benei Reuven, who were wealthy and owned large herds, cherished their wealth and therefore elected to dwell outside Eretz Yisrael. As a result, they were the first of all the tribes to be exiled, as we are taught (Divrei Hayamim I, Chapter 5).

The wheat fields waving

Of course, we all know that Eretz Yisrael is famous for its seven special fruits — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates — and the unique mitzvah, bikkurim, which is performed only with these seven fruits. 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, wheat and barley kernels are indeed “fruits,” and this is why the Mishnah frequently refers to them as peiros. We all commemorate this mitzvah annually at the Pesach Seder, when we read the story beginning with the words “Arami oveid avi,” which is part of the recital made by the pilgrim bringing his bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash.

A voice was sounding

We are meant to be “a light onto the nations,” which charges us with the responsibility to act in a manner that we create a kiddush Hashem. This means we are to live as a nation in Eretz Yisrael following the mitzvos of the Torah that Hashem commanded us individually and nationally, and that only Hashem could have commanded!

The Beis Hamikdash represents our relationship to Eretz Yisrael as being completely dependent on the Torah; this is why the bikkurim must be brought to the Beis Hamikdash and placed alongside the mizbei’ach. Our acquisition of Eretz Yisrael is only for the purpose of observing the Torah.