When Do We Not Make a Beracha on a Fragrance?

The Torah mentions that the caravan on which Yosef was “shipped” to Mitzrayim was laden with pleasant-smelling fragrances…

Question #1: My neighbor has a wonderfully fragrant garden. Do I recite a beracha whenever I visit her and walk through the garden, and, if so, which beracha?

Question #2: On my way to work I pass a spice factory that has a wonderful aroma. Do I recite a beracha every day as I drive by?

Question #3: Someone told me not to recite a beracha on perfume today because the fragrances are synthetic. Is this true?

Question #4: I just adore the smell of turpentine! Do I make a beracha when I smell it?

Answer:

In general one should not benefit from a pleasant aroma without first reciting a beracha. Nevertheless, not all fragrances require a beracha before we smell them. Furthermore, when a beracha is not required, it is forbidden to recite one.

Fragrances upon which one may not recite a beracha fall under three general categories:

I. Forbidden fragrances

II. Fragrances whose purpose is not for pleasurable smelling.

III. Fragrances whose source no longer exists. This would include a case where you put the fragrance into a closed bag, but can still smell the residual aroma in the air outside the bag (Biur Halacha 217:3), or when you enjoy the smell of an empty besamim box.

I. FORBIDDEN FRAGRANCES

One does not recite a beracha on a fragrance that it is forbidden to smell, such as a scent used in idol worship, sorcery or the perfume of an ervah (Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 9:7, based on Berachos 53a). Smelling something used for idol worship is prohibited because one may not have any benefit from idols. Since we are not permitted to smell these fragrances, it is understood why Chazal ruled that one should not make a beracha on them.

One does not recite a beracha before smelling these prohibited fragrances even if a small amount is mixed into a potpourri of other fragrances (Biur Halacha 217:8; cf. Gra ad loc. who implies that if most of the fragrance is from a different source, one should recite a beracha before smelling it. However this is very strange, because the Torah forbids smelling the entire fragrance whenever the prohibited source is discernible.)

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I PASS AN IDOL AND SMELL INCENSE?

Although this is unusual in America, there are many places in the world where this is a common shaylah. May I walk down this street if I might smell a forbidden fragrance?

According to halacha, I am permitted to walk down the street provided I try not to appreciate the fragrance. The Gemara discusses a category called Hana’ah haba’ah lo le’adam bal karcho, “benefit that a person receives against his will.” Although a person has control over what he eats, he has more limited control over what he smells or hears. If someone is exposed to a pleasurable fragrance that is forbidden according to halacha, there is no violation involved, provided he does not try to enjoy the aroma (Pesachim 25b).

II. FRAGRANCES WHOSE PURPOSE IS NOT TO PROVIDE THE PLEASURE OF SMELLING

“One does not make a beracha on a fragrance unless it was made for the pleasure of smelling” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 217:2). One recites a beracha on a fragrance only when it is avida le’reicha, literally, “made for fragrance.”In the words of the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:1), “Anything that it not specifically meant to smell is not considered a fragrance.” Thus, the definition of the word besamim is something made to provide pleasurable scent and does not include aromas not meant for smelling.

There are several headings of aromatic fragrances that are not for the pleasure of smelling. They include:

A. Deodorizing fragrances

B. Fragrances whose current purpose is not for their aroma.

C. Fragrances whose purpose is to provide aroma to something else.

D. Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

IIA. DEODORIZING FRAGRANCES

One does not recite a beracha before smelling a fragrance whose purpose is to neutralize a bad odor, such as a room deodorizer, deodorant, or oil rubbed on the skin to dispel malodor (Berachos 53a). Even though these items may be highly aromatic, since their purpose is not for enjoyment but to neutralize an unpleasant odor, we do not recite a beracha.

One does not recite a beracha before smelling a room deodorizer, even if he enjoys the aroma and even if he sprayed it in a room without a bad odor or brings it to his nose for a pleasant whiff. Since the deodorizer was made expressly to dispel malodor and not for enjoyment, it is not considered besamim even if the individual enjoys smelling it (Shaar Hatziyun 217:16, based on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 297:2).

USING OILS AS A DEODORIZER

Some people use pleasant-smelling essential oils to combat malodors. Does one make a beracha before smelling these fragrances?

It depends on why one smells them. If they are functioning as deodorants, then one does not recite a beracha, whereas someone who uses the oil with the intent of enjoying its aroma does recite the appropriate beracha before smelling it (Berachos 53a with Rashi). (See my other articles on this subject on the website RabbiKaganoff.com to know which beracha one recites.)

WHAT DETERMINES WHETHER A FRAGRANCE IS BESAMIM OR A DEODORIZER?

Some items are obviously deodorants or deodorizers and are not besamim. However, the essential oils we mentioned and other fragrances may sometimes be used to deodorize and sometimes for pleasure. What determines whether this particular fragrance is besamim over which we recite a beracha?

The Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:2) explains that the determining factor is why you brought the fragrance to this location. If you brought it for pleasure, it is besamim and you recite a beracha. If you brought the fragrance to neutralize an odor, you do not recite a beracha, even if you are smelling it because you enjoy it.

However, if you removed some of the fragrance permanently to enjoy its aroma, this part becomes besamim and warrants a beracha. The Chazon Ish uses the example of someone who applies fragrant oil to his or her skin. Even if the person originally used the oil to deodorize, if he subsequently sprinkled some onto a handkerchief to enjoy the aroma, he recites a beracha on the sprinkled oil.

IIB. INCIDENTAL TO PURPOSE

We learned above that one does not recite a beracha before smelling a fragrance whose current purpose is not for its aroma. What does this mean?

Imagine yourself outside the production facility of the world’s largest manufacturer of flavors and fragrances. The aroma outside this plant is indescribable — I can tell you because I have been there. Yet the halacha is that one does not recite a beracha on this fragrance. Why not?

The halacha is that someone who enters a spice merchant’s store recites a beracha because the owner wants potential customers to smell his wares so that they will make a purchase (Berachos 53a). If these items are in his warehouse where he is not soliciting customers, one does not recite a beracha (Magen Avraham 217:1).

Why do you recite a beracha on the spices in his store but not those in his warehouse? Because the fragrances in the store are there to be smelled and enjoyed; the ones in the warehouse are not. Thus, the fragrances in the warehouse are not avida le’reicha and are not besamim.

Thus, smelling the most fantastic aroma in the world, from the production facility of the world’s largest manufacturer of pleasant flavors and fragrances, does not warrant a beracha. These fragrances do not qualify as besamim since they are not there for people to enjoy their aroma.

THE SPICE MERCHANT HIMSELF

Does the spice seller himself recite a beracha upon entering his own shop? He does not enter intending to smell fragrant spices in order to decide what to buy. He enters because it is his livelihood. Can a fragrance be avida le’reicha for one person but not for another?

Poskim dispute this question, many ruling that the merchant should recite a beracha since the fragrance has the status of avida le’reicha. Others contend that, for the merchant, the fragrances are merchandise and not avida le’reicha,and therefore he should not recite a beracha (Mishnah Berurah 217:4; Shaar Hatziyun 217:7).

Other poskim present a different reason why the merchant should not recite a beracha on the fragrance. The Taz (217:1) contends that someone recites a beracha over a fragrance only when they demonstrate a desire to smell it, such as by picking up the fragrance and raising it to their nose. The customer who enters the shop recites a beracha because he walked into the shop intending to smell and purchase fragrances — thus, his entry is itself demonstration that he wants to smell the spices; therefore, he recites a beracha. However, the owner’s entry does not demonstrate intent to smell the product. According to this opinion, someone who makes a delivery to a perfumery does not recite a beracha.

On the other hand, most poskim contend that a fragrance that qualifies as avida le’reicha requires a beracha even when not trying to smell it (Pri Megadim MZ 217:1; Shaar Hatziyun 217:4). Later in the article, I will suggest an approach whereby a safek beracha can be avoided.

The same dispute also applies to the neighbors of the perfumery, its workers, and those making deliveries to the shop. According to the Taz’s opinion, only the customers recite a beracha on the magnificent fragrance of the shop, since they come to smell and purchase. Also, if you entered the store specifically to enjoy the fragrance, you recite a beracha according to all opinions.

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

Let’s assume you are back in the spice merchant’s warehouse or in the flavor factory and you know that you do not make a beracha on the incredible fragrance that is wafting through the air. What happens if you approach some of the spices to take a pleasant whiff or you lift some of the fragrance in order to smell it? Do you recite a beracha?

The poskim dispute what to do in this case. The Mishnah Berurah (217:1) contends that whenever you do something to smell the fragrance, such as you move towards the fragrance, you lift it up or you place some into your hand, you should recite a beracha. Any act makes the fragrance avida le’reicha.

However the Chazon Ish disagrees, maintaining that, if you will return the fragrance, it is not avida le’reicha and you do not make a beracha (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 35:1). The Chazon Ish agrees that if the manufacturer has samples available because he wants people to smell and buy, one does recite a beracha on these samples.

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

There is a common practical difference in halacha between the approaches of these two gedolim regarding spices in the kitchen. Suppose you want to enjoy the smell of the cinnamon or the oregano on your kitchen shelf. According to the Mishnah Berurah, if you remove a container to smell it, you recite a beracha on the spice, even though you intend to return the spice to the shelf after smelling it. However according to the Chazon Ish, you do not recite a beracha on this fragrance unless you do not intend to cook with it later. (See Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah, Vol. 2, Pg. 262). Someone who wants to avoid the dispute would sprinkle a little bit of spice into his hand and make a beracha on that. Since you are not going to use this spice for cooking, it is besamim according to all opinions and one recites a beracha before smelling it.

Some poskim explain that this opinion of the Chazon Ish is the reason for the widespread minhag to set aside special besamim for havdalah on Motza’ei Shabbos (Shemiras ShabbosKehilchasah, Vol. 2 pg. 262). This is because, according to the Chazon Ish, one does not recite a beracha on a kitchen spice if one intends to cook with it. Only if one removed some of the spice from kitchen use and set it aside for besamim does that spice warrant a beracha.

THE GARDEN

At the beginning of the article I asked, “My neighbor has a wonderfully fragrant garden. Do I recite a beracha whenever I visit her, and, if so, which beracha?” We are now prepared to answer this question.

The fragrant garden itself is avida le’reicha since the owner or gardener presumably planted it in order to benefit from the beautiful aroma. Do we therefore recite a beracha upon entering the garden? According to most poskim, since it is avida le’reicha, one would recite the beracha upon entering the garden, even if he is not entering to enjoy the aroma at all. The beracha will depend on what is growing in the garden, but assuming that there are items growing with different brachos, one should recite Borei Minei Besamim.

However according to the Taz, one recites a beracha only if he wants to smell the fragrance. In order to avoid this shaylah, he should have in mind before entering the garden that he is entering the garden to enjoy the fragrance and recite a beracha immediately before entering the garden, just as one recites a beracha immediately before eating a delicious fruit.

Similarly, someone whose house is permeated with aromatic flowers should recite a beracha before entering the house, since the flowers were acquired with the intention of making the house pleasantly fragrant. However, if the flowers are there only for beauty and their owner was not concerned with their fragrance, then one does not recite a beracha before entering the house. According to the Mishnah Berurah we quoted above, one should recite the appropriate beracha (either Borei Atzei Besamim or Borei Isvei Besamim) before smelling an individual flower. According to the Chazon Ish, it would seem that one should not recite a beracha unless he removed a leaf or trimming from the flowers that he wants to smell.

THE FRUIT MARKET AND THE CONFECTIONER

Does one recite a beracha when entering a fragrant fruit market, since smelling the delicious fruit may entice one to make a purchase? The same question applies to a confectionary store: Does one recite a beracha before entering this store since the delicious smell of all the sweets may entice the customer to purchase?

If indeed the owner feels that the fragrance of his wares encourages people to buy them, then one should recite a beracha before entering. This case is similar to an interesting dispute that we find in earlier poskim.

THE PHARMACY

In earlier days, a pharmacy was a store in which the apothecary sold raw herbs for their medicinal value. The poskim ask whether one recites a beracha before entering the apothecary shop, just as the Gemara says that one recites a beracha before entering the besamim seller’s store.

Some poskim rule that one should recite a beracha before entering a pharmacy because the permeating fragrance encourages people to purchase herbs. Other poskim disagree for an interesting reason — people do not purchase medicinal herbs because of fragrance, but for medical need (see Biur Halacha 217:1). Thus, since healthy people do not make purchases even if the herbs smell pleasant, and sick people will buy even if the herbs are not fragrant, no one is deciding to buy because of the fragrance. Therefore, these herbs are not avida le’reicha.

The Biur Halacha (217:1) compromises between the two positions quoted above. In his opinion, if people use the fragrance to find the location of the store, that is reason enough to make a beracha. However, he points out two other reasons why one should be careful before reciting a beracha.

1. According to the Taz (mentioned above) one does not recite a beracha unless one intends to smell the fragrance.

2. One should recite a beracha only if the fragrances are open. However, if the herbs are all in closed bags, but the air is fragrant from when the bags had been open previously, this is considered a rei’ach she’ein lo ikar, upon which one does not recite a beracha.

Thus upon entering a fragrant fruit store, one should recite Hanosein Rei’ach Tov Bapeiros and then intend to enjoy the fragrance, since the fruits are always out in the open to encourage people to buy them.

It is uncertain whether the same halacha applies to a florist’s shop. Flowers today are not cultivated for fragrance, and most people purchase flowers because of beauty, not fragrance. However, if there is a florist who feels that customers purchase because of fragrance, one should recite Borei Minei Besamim and enjoy the fragrance.

IIC. Fragrances whose purpose is to provide aroma to something else.

In the time of Chazal, it was common to burn incense in order to give clothing or dishes a pleasant fragrance. The Gemara (Berachos 53a) mentions that one does not recite a beracha when smelling this beautiful aroma because its purpose is not for the fragrance itself.

When showing a house for sale, some people toast cinnamon in the oven or open essential oils and other fragrances around the house to make the house more appealing. Since the purpose of these fragrances is to give the house a pleasant aroma and not to entice people either to smell or to purchase the fragrance, one does not recite a beracha.

IID. Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

There are items that some people enjoy smelling, but most people do not consider fragrant. One should not recite a beracha before smelling such an item.

Examples: The poskim dispute whether one recites a beracha on freshly baked bread. Those who contend that a beracha is ont recited opine that this is not a fragrance significant enough to warrant a beracha (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 216; Rema). Thus, some people enjoy smelling certain plants or herbs whereas other people do not. If most people do not consider a particular smell to be a fragrance, you should not recite a beracha even if you enjoy it.

TURPENTINE

Question #4 above, was: “I just adore the smell of turpentine! Do I make a beracha when I smell it?”

Dear reader, how would you please answer this shaylah?

Perfumeries do not sell turpentine as a fragrance. Hardware stores sell it as a solvent and paint thinner. Many people consider the odor of turpentine pungent and not fragrant. Since most people do not consider turpentine to be a fragrance, one should not recite a beracha before smelling it.

III. Ein lo ikar – A fragrance whose source no longer exists.

In the case mentioned above where one burns incense to impart aroma onto clothing ordishes, one does not recite a beracha on the clothing afterwards, because the fragrance has no ikar (Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 9:8). For this reason, one does not recite a beracha on a bag that has a pleasant smell because it once held fragrance, or when you can still smell the residual aroma that is in the air after a spice has been put into a closed bag

(Biur Halacha 217:3).

SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCES

Some poskim contend that one does not make a beracha on a synthetic fragrance (Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, quoted in Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Vol. 2, Pg. 263 note 32). Apparently, they hold that one can recite a beracha only on a fragrance whose source was originally besamim. However most poskim dispute this ruling, contending that a fragrance should not be different from a “synthetic food” — a food made from a non-food substance, such as alcohol or vinegar whose source is petrochemical — which is very common today.

This situation is very common today, since most inexpensive fragrances and perfumes are synthetic. Because of the above dispute, if I have a reason to smell a synthetic fragrance I try to recite a beracha on a different fragrance whose beracha is Borei Minei Besamim, such as cloves or cinnamon, and thereby be motzi the synthetic fragrance. (Neither of these options will work for Sefardim, since they usually recite Hanosein Rei’ach Tov Bapeiros oncloves and Borei Atzei Besamim on cinnamon.)

As a quick review, we do not recite a beracha on the following categories of fragrances:

Those that we are not permitted to smell.

Deodorizers.

If the fragrance is incidental to the item’s main purpose or if it provides aroma to something else.

Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

Where one does not smell the source of the fragrance.

Some poskim hold that we should not recite a beracha on a synthetic fragrance.

EXPRESSIVE FRAGRANCE

In a monumental essay, Rav Hirsch (Breishis 8:21) explains that the expression rei’ach nicho’ach, usually translated as “a pleasant fragrance,” should more accurately be rendered “an expression of compliance.” He demonstrates that the word nicho’ach means “giving satisfaction,” and the concept of rei’ach is used because fragrance implies receiving a very slight impression of something that is distant. Thus, when a korban is offered as a rei’ach nicho’ach, it means that it shows a small expression of our fulfilling Hashem’s will. Similarly, our attempt to observe correctly the halachos of brachos on fragrances demonstrates a small expression on our part to praise Hashem for even His small kindnesses to us.

More about Birkas Hagomeil

Did Yaakov Avinu bensch gomeil after surviving his encounter with Eisav?

Question #1: “Upon reciting birkas hagomeil, an individual erred and recited the following: ‘Hagomeil tovim, shegemalani kol tuv’ (without the word “lechayavim”). Must he now repeat the beracha because he omitted a word?”

Question #2: “Thank G-d, my nine-year-old daughter is now recuperating successfully from surgery. Does she recite birkas hagomeil?”

Question #3: “Did the Chashmonayim recite birkas hagomeil upon winning their war?”

Answer:

In a different article, we learned that birkas hagomeil is to be recited by someone who has been saved from a dangerous situation. Specifically, Sefer Tehillim (107) and the Gemara mention four different types of individuals in treacherous predicaments — one who traverses a wilderness, a captive who was freed, an ill person, and a seafarer — whose safe return, release or recovery warrants reciting this beracha. The halacha is that one recites birkas hagomeil after surviving any life-threatening situation. This article will discuss some aspects of this beracha that were not yet covered.

Someone else reciting

May someone else recite some form of birkas hagomeil on behalf of the person who actually was in the difficult circumstance? In this context, we find the following Gemara passage (Berachos 54b):

“Rav Yehudah had been ill and recovered. When Rav Chona of Baghdad and other scholars came to visit him, they said to Rav Yehudah, ‘Blessed is the merciful One (in Aramaic, rachmana), Who returned you to us and not to the earth.’ Rav Yehudah responded, ‘You have exempted me from reciting birkas hagomeil!’”

Thus, we see that Rav Yehudah ruled that the praise recited by his visitors exempted him from reciting birkas hagomeil, notwithstanding the fact that Rav Chona and the others had not been ill and had no requirement to recite birkas hagomeil.

The Gemara proceeds to ask several questions about this conversation: “But do we not require a minyan for birkas hagomeil?” to which the Gemara replies that there indeed were ten people present when Rav Chona visited Rav Yehudah.

The Gemara then questions how Rav Yehudah could have fulfilled birkas hagomeil if he himself had not recited the beracha, to which it replies that he answered “Amen” to the blessing of Rav Chona of Baghdad.

Deriving Halacha

In addition to what we noted above, the above Gemara discussion teaches several additional halachos about birkas hagomeil:

1. Although the authorities quote a standardized wording for birkas hagomeil, we see that one fulfills his requirement even if one recited a version that varies considerably from the usual text, as long as it is a beracha that thanks Hashem for the salvation.

2. The person who was saved can fulfill his obligation by answering amen when he hears someone else thank Hashem, even though the person reciting the beracha has no requirement to bensch gomeil. This is a unique halachah, because usually one may fulfill a beracha or mitzvah by hearing it from someone else only when the person reciting the beracha is equally required to observe the mitzvah. Despite this rule, Rav Yehudah discharged his responsibility through Rav Chona’s beracha,even though Rav Chona personally had no requirement to recite birkas hagomeil.

3. We can also derive from this anecdote that someone may fulfill the requirement of birkas hagomeil through someone else’s beracha, even though the person who recited the beracha did not intend to recite it on behalf of the person who is obligated. This is also an unusual facet of birkas hagomeil, since in all other instances, the person fulfilling the mitzvah does so only if the person doing it intends to be motzi him.

4. Some authorities ask: Since Rav Chona was unaware that Rav Yehudah would fulfill the mitzvah, why was he not concerned that he would be reciting a beracha levatalah, a blessing recited in vain?

The answer is that Rav Chona of Baghdad’s recital was certainly praise to Hashem and thanks for His kindness, and therefore this blessing would certainly not be a beracha levatalah, even if no one fulfilled any requirement through it (Tur, Orach Chayim 219).

Uniqueness of birkas hagomeil

From these last rulings, we see that the concept of birkas hagomeil is unlike other berachos, and therefore, its rules are different. As long as the person obligated to thank Hashem is involved in an acknowledgement that Hashem saved him, he has fulfilled his obligation.

What about mentioning Hashem’s name?

One should not infer from the above story that one can fulfill reciting birkas hagomeil without mentioning Hashem’s name. This is because the word rachmana, which translates literally into English as “the merciful One,” also serves as the Aramaic word for G-d. Thus, Rav Chona of Baghdad did mention Hashem’s name in his blessing.

What about mentioning malchus?

The Rishonim note that from the way the Gemara quotes Rav Chona of Baghdad, “Blessed is the merciful One Who returned you to us and not to the earth,” one might conclude that it is sufficient to recite Baruch Ata Hashem for birkas hagomeil, and that one does not need to say also Elokeinu Melech haolam, the standard text prefacing all berachos. This would be very novel, since all berachos require an introduction that includes not only mention of Hashem, but also requires proclaiming that Hashem is King. However, the Tur and the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 219) reject this conclusion, contending that one does not fulfill birkas hagomeil unless one does mention sheim and malchus. We must therefore assume that the Gemara abbreviated the beracha recited by Rav Chona of Baghdad and that he had indeed mentioned Hashem’s monarchy in his blessing.

The text

What is the optimal nusach, the exact text, of this beracha?

Although our Gemara (Berachos 54b) quotes a wording for birkas hagomeil, it is apparent that different rishonim had variant readings of the text of the beracha. The most common version recorded is: Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam, hagomeil lachayovim tovos, shegemalani kol tov. “Blessed are You, Lord, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who grants good to those who are guilty, for He granted me much good.” The assembled then respond with “Amen,” and then add, Mi shegemalcha kol tov hu yigmalecha kol tov sela, “May He Who has granted you much good continue to grant you much good forever.” The established Sefardi custom is to recite two pesukim prior to reciting the beracha, which calls people to attention so that they can focus on the beracha and respond appropriately (Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 219:14).

The wording of the beracha sounds unusual, for it implies that the person who recited this beracha is assuming that he was deserving of Divine punishment, yet was saved because of Hashem’s kindness. Why should the saved person make this assumption?

The Maharam Mintz (Shu”t #14), an early Ashkenazi authority, explains that someone who became ill or was imprisoned should be introspective, seeking to learn a lesson by discovering why this happened to him. In so doing, he should realize that he is indeed guilty of things for which he needs to do teshuvah. In this context, the Avnei Nezer (Shu”t Orach Chayim #39) asks the following: while the Maharam Mintz’s reason explains why a person who was captured or imprisoned should consider himself guilty, it is not clear how it applies to someone who survived a journey on the high seas or through the desert, since he himself chose to undertake the trip. To this, the Avnei Nezer answers that there could be one of two reasons why this traveler undertook this trip: one alternative is that he felt a compelling need to travel, for parnasah or some other reason, in which case he should ask himself why Hashem presented him with such a potentially dangerous situation. The traveler should contemplate this issue and realize that he needs to do teshuvah for something — which now explains why the beracha calls him “guilty.”

The other alternative is that the traveler could have avoided the trip, in which case he is considered guilty, because he endangered himself unnecessarily. In either instance, we can now appreciate why the person reciting the beracha refers to himself as being “guilty.”

What about a child?

If a child survived a situation that would require an adult to recite birkas hagomeil, does he do so?

Early halachic authorities rule that a child under the age of bar or bas mitzvah does not recite birkas hagomeil. The Maharam Mintz explains that it is inappropriate for a child to recite the wording hagomeil lachayovim tovos, “Who grants good to those who are guilty.” Harm that befalls a child is not a result of his own evildoing, but of his father’s; thus, a child reciting this text implies that his father is guilty, which is certainly improper for a child. Furthermore, to modify the beracha is unseemly, since one should not change the text of the beracha handed down to us by Chazal (quoted by Elyah Rabbah 291:3).

Some authorities are dissatisfied with this last answer, since we see that Rav Yehudah felt that he had fulfilled his requirement to recite birkas hagomeil when Rav Chona said, “Blessed is Hashem that returned you to us and not to the earth,” which is quite different from the text, “Who grants good to those who are guilty, for He granted me much good.” It would seem that any beracha text that includes a praise acknowledging thanks for Hashem’s rescue fulfills the requirement (see Shaar Hatizyun 219:5). Thus, it should be relatively easy to structure a birkas hagomeil text for children.

The above-quoted Avnei Nezer similarly disapproves of the rationale presented by the Maharam Mintz, although he agrees with the ruling that a child should not recite birkas hagomeil – but for a different reason. The Avnei Nezer explains that although any text thanking Hashem fulfills the mitzvah of reciting birkas hagomeil, the preferred way is for the person to say “I, who am guilty,” something that a child cannot say. Although one could modify the text so that a child would be able to recite birkas hagomeil and omit this concept, having a child recite a different beracha would no longer accomplish the mitzvah of chinuch, which requires a child to fulfill the mitzvah the way he would as an adult.

On the other hand, the Chida (Birkei Yosef 219:1) quotes authorities who disagreed with the Maraham Mintz, and ruled that a child should recite birkas hagomeil, although the Chida does not cite the rationale for this ruling. Presumably, these authorities contend that having a child recite this beracha is no different than any other mitzvah in which we are required to educate our children. Most authorities agree with the rulings of the Maharam Mintz and the Avnei Nezer and, as a result, in most communities, both Ashkenazi and Sefardi, children do not recite birkas hagomeil (Kaf Hachayim 219:2).

How much traveling?

One of the four instances for which the Gemara requires birkas hagomeil is surviving a trip through a desert. However, when the Rambam quotes this Gemara, he states, instead of those who traveled through the desert, “those who traveled on intercity roads recite birkas hagomeil when they arrive at a settled place.” The authorities dispute what the Rambam means, the Tur assuming him to mean that one recites birkas hagomeil after any trip. This position is certainly held by the Ramban, who writes (Toras Ha’adam, page 49) that the Gemara mentioned those who traveled through the desert only because that is the text of the verse in Tehillim, but the halacha is that any traveler recites birkas hagomeil upon arrival at his destination. For this reason, the Ramban and the Avudraham record that many Sefardim recite birkas hagomeil for any out-of-town trip, for, to quote the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachos 4:4), kol haderachim bechezkas sakanah, all highways should be assumed to be dangerous.

The Rosh (Berachos 9:3), however, disagrees with the Ramban, contending that there is a difference between tefillas haderech, which one recites for any trip, and birkas hagomeil, which one recites only when one would be required to offer a korban todah. The verses in Chapter 107 imply that one is required to offer a korban todah only when one survives a major calamity. Thus, in the Rosh’s opinion, the statement kol haderachim bechezkas sakanah means that one should recite tefillas haderech any time one travels intercity, but not that one should recite birkas hagomeil. Reflecting this approach, the Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah mention that in France and Germany the practice was to refrain from reciting birkas hagomeil when traveling from one city to the next.

The Bach also follows this approach and takes issue with the Tur’s interpretation of the Rambam, contending that even the Rambam is referring only to someone traveling through a completely barren area similar to a desert, but that the Rambam agrees that someone traveling through an area where food and water can be readily obtained does not recite birkas hagomeil afterwards. The Bach suggests that the Tur was not quoting the Rambam in support of this position, but the Ramban, and that scribes erred while redacting.

Airplane travel

Does someone who travels by airplane recite birkas hagomeil?

In researching the different teshuvos written on this subject, I found a wide range of halachic opinion. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that anyone traveling by airplane must recite birkas hagomeil, regardless as to whether he was traveling over sea or over land exclusively. He contends that even those authorities who rule that one should recite birkas hagomeil only for the four types of calamities mentioned in Tehillim and the Gemara require birkas hagomeil for flying, since flying by air is identical to traveling by ship, as the entire time that one is above ground, one’s long-term life plans are all completely dependent on one’s safe return to land (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:59). I found another authority who agreed with Rav Moshe’s conclusion, but for a different reason. One should recite birkas hagomeil, not because air travel should be compared to seafaring, but because we rule that one recites birkas hagomeil for any type of danger to which one was exposed (Shu”t Betzel Hachachmah 1:20). Rav Ovadyah Yosef rules that Sefardim should recite birkas hagomeil after any air trip that takes longer than 72 minutes, just as they recite birkas hagomeil after any trip on land that takes this long (Shu”t Yabia Omer 2:Orach Chayim #14).

On the other hand, many contend that since this is a different method of travel from what was included in the original takanas Chazal, and, in addition, air travel today is not highly dangerous, one should not recite birkas hagomeil, at least not with the names of Hashem, which they are concerned might result in a beracha levatalah (Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 2:9; Rav Zion Levy, in his question to Rav Ovadyah Yosef, published in Shu”t Yabia Omer, Orach Chayim II #14).

According to what we have thus far written, there should be no distinction drawn on the length of the flight or whether it traverses land or sea. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein’s approach, one should always recite birkas hagomeil for air flight, and according to those who dispute, one should not. Notwithstanding the strong logic, there is a prevalent custom that people bensch gomeil when flying overseas, but not when flying domestically. The Be’er Moshe (2:68) notes this practice, which he feels has very weak halachic foundation. Nevertheless, since this is the prevalent custom, he attempts to justify it and says that people should follow the custom.

Conclusion

Returning to our opening question:  Did Yaakov Avinu bensch gomeil after surviving his encounter with Eisav?

We can ask further: Did Yitzchak Avinu recite birkas hagomeil after the akeidah? Did Chananyah, Mesha’el, and Azaryah recite birkas hagomeil upon exiting the furnace, or Daniel after waving good-bye to the lions? Did the kohen gadol recite birkas hagomeil upon exiting the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur? Did Rabbi Akiva recite birkas hagomeil over the fact that he was the only one who had studied the deepest secrets of the Torah (called “pardes”) and remained physically and spiritually intact?

The Chida, in his Machazik Beracha commentary to Shulchan Aruch (219:1-3), presents a lengthy correspondence on this question that transpired between his father and another talmid chacham, Rav Eliezer Nachum. Rav Yitzchak Zerachyah Azulai, the Chida’s father, contended that only someone who was placed in a situation involuntarily, including one who traveled by sea or through the desert because circumstances compelled him to endanger himself, recites birkas hagomeil, but not someone who chose to give up his life to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. Even when someone in the latter situation is saved by an obvious miracle, he should not recite birkas hagomeil since, had he lost his life, he would immediately have been elevated above all that this world could possibly offer. Similarly, he rules that the kohen gadol does not recite birkas hagomeil upon leaving the kodesh hakodoshim, since his entering was to fulfill a mitzvah of Hashem. Furthermore, he adds, that a kohen gadol worthy of his position was never in any danger to begin with – only an unworthy kohen gadol need be concerned of the dangers of entering the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur.

Rav Eliezar Nachum disagreed strongly with Rav Azulai’s position. Rav Nachum notes several midrashic and Talmudic passages that mention the tremendous songs of praise that were sung by the angels and by the great tzadikim mentioned above upon surviving these travails. Certainly, upon surviving these dangers one is required to recite birkas hagomeil to thank Hashem for his salvation.

The Place Where Yaakov Davened

Question #1: Ascending Har Habayis Today

“I have been told that it can be halachically permitted to ascend Har Habayis, and I have also heard that it is forbidden and could violate some very severe Torah laws. Which is true?”

Question #2: Non-Jews in the Beis Hamikdash

“Where in the Beis Hamikdash may a non-Jew pray?”

Question #3: Is Yaakov second rate?

“If Yaakov created the maariv prayer, why is his prayer treated as inferior to those created by Avraham and Yitzchak? After all, the Gemara’s conclusion is that tefillas arvis reshus, the evening prayer is optional (Brachos 27b).”

Introduction:

Our parsha opens: “Then Yaakov left Be’er Sheva, heading towards Haran. And he stopped at the place and spent the night there because the sun had already set.” Rashi raises the question that the posuk should say that he stopped at “a” place, not “the” place; it is clearly referring to a place with which we are already familiar. Rashi explains that this refers to Har Hamoriah, where Akeidas Yitzchok took place. We are more familiar with referring to this mountain as Har Habayis, literally, “the mountain of The House,” upon which the Beis Hamikdash was later built.

Chazal derive from here that Yaakov arrived at this holy place and instituted the prayer of maariv. Shelomoh Hamelech prayed that the Beis Hamikdash should be a place for both Jews and non-Jews to worship Hashem (see Melachim I 8:41), and this spirit is again emphasized in a later prophecy, ki beisi beis tefillah yikarei lechol ha’amim (Yeshayahu 56:8) “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”

This provides an opportunity to discuss the laws mentioned in the Mishnah describing the different levels of sanctity that apply to the Land of Israel and the Beis Hamikdash area, all laws that we need to know today and will need to know even more thoroughly when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheirah be’yameinu.

The first chapter of Mesechta Keilim, which is an introduction to the entire seder and the concepts of Taharos, closes with the following: “There are ten levels of sanctity” germane to different places in Eretz Yisrael, and then the Mishnah enumerates the different levels. This article will list and explain these different levels, which should help us understand some of the laws that apply.

(1) Land of Israel

The lowest of these levels of sanctity is “the land of Israel itself, which is holier than all other lands” in that three offerings brought to the Beis Hamikdashkorban omer, bikkurim and the two loaves offered on Shavuos — can be brought only from produce of Eretz Yisrael.

There are many other halachos germane exclusively to Eretz Yisrael, such as that most agricultural mitzvos of the Torah apply only in Eretz Yisrael, at least min haTorah.

The special semicha given by Moshe Rabbeinu that is required for many halachic areas can be issued only in Eretz Yisrael (Sanhedrin 14a; Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:6). Another halacha that can be fulfilled only in Eretz Yisrael is the appointment of a king over the Jewish people (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 4:6).

Eastern side of the Jordan

The eastern side of the Jordan became part of the Land of Israel in the days of Moshe, when the kings Sichon and Og attacked the Benei Yisrael, and they and their armies were annihilated. However, these lands were not originally part of the Land of Israel that was promised to the Benei Yisrael when they left Egypt. Can the korban omer, bikkurim and the two loaves of Shavuos be offered from produce of the eastern side of the Jordan River, which was not part of the originally promised Eretz Yisrael?

This is the subject of a dispute among the rishonim, in which Rashi (Sanhedrin 11b s.v. al shetayim and Menachos 83b s.v. kol ha’aratzos) rules that these korbanos can be brought from the eastern side of the Jordan, whereas the Ran (Nedorim 22a s.v. hahi) rules that they cannot.

(2) Walled Israeli cities

The next level of sanctity is that the walled cities of Eretz Yisrael, according to the Mishnah, are holier than other places in Eretz Yisrael in the following two ways:

(1) A metzora may not remain in these cities.

(2) Once a meis has been removed from these cities, it may not be returned. (And certainly if the person died outside a walled city, his remains may not be brought into the city). The Rambam and the Raavad disagree whether this ruling includes an absolute prohibition to bury someone in a walled city in Eretz Yisrael (Raavad, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 7:13) or whether someone who died within the walled city may be buried in the city (Rambam ad loc.). All agree that once the meis was removed from the walled city, it may not be returned to the city, and certainly may not be buried there.

Capital punishment

According to many early authorities, another law about the walled cities of Eretz Yisrael is that when a Beis Din carried out capital punishment, this was required to be performed outside a walled city in Eretz Yisrael (Rash and Rosh, Keilim 1:7, based on Mishnah Sanhedrin 42b; see also Tosafos ad loc. s.v. beis).

Purim

An obvious question is — why did I not mention that there is a difference in that the walled cities celebrate Purim on the fifteenth of Adar, sometimes called Shushan Purim, whereas unwalled cities celebrate Purim on the fourteenth of Adar.

The answer is that this has nothing to do with walled cities in Eretz Yisrael; even walled cities outside Eretz Yisrael that date back to the time of Yehoshua entering Eretz Yisrael would celebrate Purim on the 15th (see Ran, Megillah 2a s.v. kerachin, in the name of Tosafos).

(3) Yerushalayim

The third level is the walled city of Yerushalayim, in which it is permitted to eat maaser sheini, the meat of kodshim kalim (Keilim 1:8)such as korban pesach and shelamim, and bikkurim (see Bikkurim 2:2).

By the way, the current “Old City” walls of Yerushalayim, constructed by the Ottoman Turks almost 1500 years after the churban, are not the borders that define the halachic sanctity of the city. Without question, there are areas outside the current walls that did have the sanctity of Yerushalayim, and the walls probably encompass areas that were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and, therefore, do not have the sanctity of Yerushalayim. When Moshiach comes, it will be necessary to determine exactly where the borders of the halachic “old city” of Yerushalayim are.

(4) Har Habayis

The fourth level is Har Habayis, beyond which many tamei people may not enter, including zavim, zavos, niddos and women after childbirth, until they have been able to complete the first stage of their taharah process. Because of space considerations, we cannot explain the details of these types of tumah, but our readers should be aware that, because of these laws, many people who ascend the Har Habayis today violate a Torah prohibition equivalent to eating treif food.

For clarification purposes: In addition to walls surrounding the city of Yerushalayim, there were also walls surrounding the entire Har Habayis. The Kosel HaMaaravi, where we daven, is part of the western wall of the Har Habayis. These are not the walls of the Beis Hamikdash. The Beis Hamikdash occupied only a small area of the Har Habayis. Although the Har Habayis has much more kedusha than that of Yerushalayim, the Beis Hamikdash has much greater kedusha than that of the Har Habayis. Today when we are all temei’im, someone entering the area where the Beis Hamikdash once stood is chayov kareis, an extremely severe punishment (Kaftor Vaferech, Chapter 6; Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 6:14; cf. Ra’avad ad loc., who disagrees).

As we said, the Har Habayis has far less sanctity than the Beis Hamikdash. Nevertheless, most contemporary poskim prohibit ascending the Har Habayis. A minority of poskim permit entering areas of the Har Habayis that are not part of the Beis Hamikdash, in order to daven or perform a mitzvah, but only after performing certain taharah procedures, including washing oneself thoroughly, making certain that there are no chatzitzos (intervening substances on one’s body), and immersing in a mikveh. All agree that it is prohibited to enter any part of the Har Habayis if one is tamei with what halacha calls tumah hayotzei migufo, which includes people who are baalei keri, zav, zavah, niddah and yoledes.

Ascending Har Habayis today

At this point, let us address our opening question:

“I have been told that it can be halachically permitted to ascend Har Habayis, and I have also heard that it is forbidden and could violate some very severe Torah laws. Which is true?”

The answer is that most people who ascend the Har Habayis are, unfortunately, violating major halachos, and, for this reason, the vast majority of contemporary halachic authorities rule that no one, except for security personnel when necessary, should ever ascend Har Habayis. Unfortunately, since it has now become “stylish” in many circles to ascend the Har Habayis, many people are violating halachos, somethingthat they would never have done on their own without encouragement.

(5) Cheil

The fifth level is the “cheil,” beyond which non-Jews may not proceed, nor Jews who are tamei meis. The word “cheil” means a wall or fortification (see Tehillim 48:14, Yeshayahu 26:1). Most authorities assume that the sanctity of the cheil over the Har Habayis is only a rabbinic injunction, and that min haTorah it is permitted to enter the cheil with this level of tumah, but prohibited from entering the Beis Hamikdash proper (Raavad, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 7:16; Rash, Rosh and Gra, Keilim 1:8).

This is the first time the Mishnah has mentioned the category called tamei meis, tumah contracted through contact with a corpse. (Someone who was ever in the same room or under the same roof as a corpse also becomes tamei meis.) This status creates a major halachic concern, because it is a severe Torah prohibition to enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds while tamei, and virtually everyone today has become tamei meis. Although other forms of tumah can be removed by immersion in a mikveh at the appropriate time, tumas meis can be removed only by sprinkling on the person who is tamei from the water in which was mixed ashes of the parah adumah (the red cow or heifer whose processing is described by the Torah in parshas Chukas and in mesechta Parah). Since we do not know where the remaining ashes of the previously prepared paros adumos are, we cannot purify ourselves from tumas meis.

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: “Where in the Beis Hamikdash may a non-Jew pray?”

The answer is that he may pray anywhere on the Har Habayis that he would like, as long as it outside the cheil area. Technically speaking, this means that he is praying near the Beis Hamikdash, but not inside it.

(6) Ezras Nashim

The sixth level is the Ezras Nashim. The term “ezras nashim” is used today to mean the area of a shul which is designated for the women to daven. The original term refers to an area of the Beis Hamikdash, or, more technically, the entrance area of the Beis Hamikdash. Beyond this area, only someone completely tahor may enter. It is called the Ezras Nashim because women usually did not enter past this point, although they could, if there was a halachic reason for them to do so.

We should note that the Beis Hamikdash is oriented westward. In other words, from the Ezras Nashim until the Kodesh Hakodoshim, which is the highest level of sanctity, we are entering on the east, and moving toward the west, with the Kodesh Hakodoshim being the western most area of the Beis Hamikdash.

The Beis Hamikdash was not centered in the middle of the Har Habayis, but on its west-northwest side (Rambam, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 5:6). The Ezras Nashim is the beginning of the Beis Hamikdash itself.

(7) Ezras Yisrael

The seventh level is the Ezras Yisrael, beyond which anyone tamei is prohibited from entering min haTorah. Even someone with a very mild amount of residual tumah, called mechusar kippurim, may not enter this area.

The term Ezras Yisrael does not mean “He who helps Israel,” or “the help of Israel” (as it does when used in davening) but comes from the word azarah, as it is used many times in Yechezkel and Divrei Hayamim, where it refers to the “courtyard,” the enclosed areas of the Beis Hamikdash that are outside the Kodesh or Heichal. The term Ezras Nashim that we mentioned previously also uses the word azarah in the same sense.

(8) Ezras Kohanim

The eighth level is the area called the Ezras Kohanim. Normally, only kohanim are allowed to enter past this point, although there are circumstances in which a Yisrael is permitted to enter past this area to carry out some halachic responsibility.

The Ezras Kohanim was a strip of area alongside the eastern side of the mizbei’ach.

At this point, it is appropriate to quote the words of the Rambam: “The location of the mizbeiach is extremely exact, and it may never be moved from its location… We have an established tradition that the place where David and Shelomoh built the mizbeiach is the same place where Avraham built the mizbeiach and bound Yitzchak. This is the same place where Noach built a mizbeiach when he left the Ark and where Kayin and Hevel built their mizbeiach. It is the same place where Adam offered the first korban, and it is the place where he (Adam) was created….

“The dimensions and shape of the mizbeiach are very exact. The mizbeiach constructed when the Jews returned from the first exile was built according to the dimensions of the mizbeiach that will be built in the future. One may not add or detract from its size” (Hilchos Beis Habechirah 2:1-3). Prior to building the second Beis Hamikdash, the prophets Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi testified regarding three halachos about the mizbeiach that were necessary to reinstitute the korbanos, one of which was the exact location of the mizbeiach (Zevachim 62a).

(9) Between the mizbei’ach and the Kodesh

The ninth level is the area past the mizbei’ach, to which a kohein with a blemish or one who has not had his hair cut properly may not enter.

As the Mishnah teaches, a kohein with either of these disqualifications may not perform the service in the Beis Hamikdash, and if he did, the korban that he worked with became invalid (Mishnah Zevachim 15b).

(10) The Kodesh

The tenth level is the Kodesh. In the Beis Hamikdash, there actually was an area in front of the Kodesh called the Ulam, which has the same level of kedusha as the Kodesh. The the ulam area did not exist in the Mishkan.

Inside the Kodesh area was where the menorah, the shulchan and the golden mizbei’ach stood. The golden mizbei’ach was used daily only for the burning of the ketores, although on Yom Kippur it was also used for some of the holiest of the korbanos, those that were brought into the Kodesh Hakodoshim.

(11) The Kodesh Hakodoshim

The highest level of sanctity is that of the Kodesh Hakodoshim. This was entered only by the Kohein Gadol and only on Yom Kippur. In actuality, the Kohein Gadol entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim four times on Yom Kippur: The first time was with the Yom Kippur ketores, the second time to begin the kaparah of his special Yom Kippur bull offering, the third time to attend to the kaparah of the goat offering, and the fourth time, later in the day, to pick up the censer and the ladle with which he had offered the ketores when he first entered.

But one second; you told me that the Mishnah says that there are ten levels of sanctity, and then you listed eleven. This is inconsistent!

You are indeed correct. At the end of their commentaries to this chapter, the Rash and the Bartenura raise this question, to which there are many answers. The Rambam seems to understand that the first level that I counted, Eretz Yisrael, should not be included: The Mishnah is listing ten levels of sanctity above Eretz Yisrael.

Conclusion: Was Yaakov third rate?

At this point, let us return to the third of our opening questions: If each of our three daily prayers was established by one of our forefathers, why is it that two of these prayers are obligatory, and yet the Gemara concludes that maariv is optional? Even if we understand the Gemara to mean, as some rishonim explain, that it is only relatively optional – meaning that davening maariv is mandatory, but that it is more easily deferred – we want to know why Yaakov seems to get a second-rate standing. After all, he is considered the most chosen of the forefathers, bechir shebe’avos, so why should his prayer be considered of lesser importance?

The Penei Yehoshua (Berachos 26b s.v. mihu) explains that Yaakov never intended to create a new prayer at night, but intended to daven mincha! Suddenly, Hashem made the sun set, and it got dark early, in order to force Yaakov to stop at that place. Thus, Yaakov’s prayer was because he had missed mincha, but not because he was trying to institute a prayer in the evening. Since his creation of maariv was unintentional, it shows no lack of respect for Yaakov to suggest that it may have more lenient rules than the prayers created by Avraham and Yitzchak, shacharis and mincha.

Avraham’s Prophecy

Question #1: Vayeira

How could Avraham Avinu attend to his guests if he was in the midst of a prophetic trance?

Question #2: Kesuvim

What is the difference between Nevi’im and Kesuvim?

Question #3: Tehillim

Is Tehillim prophetic?

Parshas Vayeira

Parshas Vayeira begins with Hashem appearing to Avraham. When a navi, Avraham included, receives a prophecy, he is in a prophetic trance or a dreamlike state, as we will see later in the words of the Rambam regarding prophecy. Yet, the very next posuk has Avraham seeing travelers, racing out to invite them into his tent, cooking and serving them a meal, and carrying on conversation with them. How could he do this if he was in the middle of having a prophetic vision?

The answer to this question involves a dispute among rishonim. According to Rashi, the Ramban, the Ritva and the vast majority of rishonim, it seems that receiving a prophecy did not preclude Avraham Avinu from requesting permission of Hashem to leave his prophetic state in order to attend to the visitors. This is explained by Chazal as: Gedolah hachnasas orchim mei’hakbolas penei ShechinaBringing in guests is greater than receiving the Divine presence (Shabbos 127a; Shavuos 35b). This is based on the observation of what Avraham did. This should seem similar to someone who is on the telephone with “The Rosh Yeshivah (or “The Boss”) and says to Him, “Can G-d please hold the telephone line for a moment; I have guests to entertain!” This may sound strange to us – is it not greater to receive Hashem’s presence than to receive common people?

The answer is that it is more important that we emulate what Hashem does — in this case, make sure that wanderers have a place to rest, wash and eat (and, if necessary, sleep), all of which reflects what Hashem does for the entire world daily — than it is to receive communication from Hashem on the level that a prophet does.

On the other hand, the Rambam has a very different way of understanding what happened, which I will explain after the following introduction:

Levels of prophecy

According to the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 2:44), there are twelve different levels of prophecy:

Levels 1 and 2 are different levels of ruach hakodesh, which the Rambam considers on a lower level than prophecy, and which I will soon explain in more detail.

Levels 3-11 are various degrees of prophecy. It is unnecessary for us to explore every category in this gamut of qualities of prophecy to explain our topic. We simply need to understand that these are different types of Divine experience that the Rambam includes under the general heading of prophecy.

Level 12 is the highest level of prophecy, which was achieved only by Moshe Rabbeinu, and is based on the Torah’s description (Bamidbar 12:6-8) that Hashem communicates with other prophets in visions and riddles, whereas Hashem speaks to Moshe in regular conversation. As the Rambam explains, Moshe is the father of all prophets, both of those who preceded him and those who succeeded him. Other prophets receive their prophecy when they are asleep or in a trance, when their physical senses are inactive;  Moshe could receive a prophecy while awake. Other prophets see symbolic images or allegories; Moshe needed no metaphors. Moshe was able to receive words of prophecy and remain fully composed. Other prophets can only wait and hope to receive a vision; only Moshe could initiate a dialogue with Hashem (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 7:6; Commentary to Mishnah, Sanhedrin, Chapter 10).

Ruach hakodesh

(1) Divine assistance

At this point, I am going to explain the first level, as I promised above. According to the Rambam, most of the passages in Tanach in which it says “and the Ruach of Hashem came upon” or enveloped someone mean that the individual received Divine assistance to achieve something that he would, otherwise, probably have been unable to accomplish on his own. The Rambam implies that the individual may not even realize that he has been the beneficiary of special Divine involvement. Among the many personalities in Tanach who achieved ruach hakodesh are Yosef, Shimshon, Shaul and the many shoftim. The Rambam explains that this was the level that Moshe Rabbeinu had achieved before his first prophecy at the Burning Bush.

This level is not true prophecy, which is receiving a communication from Hashem; nor does it necessarily effect a permanent change in the individual receiving this Divine blessing, again unlike true prophecy in which the prophet now feels a qualitative difference in his own spirituality that remains with him for the rest of his life.

Many authorities accept fully this approach of the Rambam, including theRadak (in the introduction to his commentary on Tehillim) and the Abarbanel (in his commentaries to Tanach and Moreh Nevuchim).

(2) Higher Ruach hakodesh

There is a higher level of ruach hakodesh, in which the individual is aware that he has received a Divine gift that allows him to accomplish more than he would otherwise have been able to. This higher level of ruach hakodesh enabled Dovid Hamelech to compose Tehillim, Shelomoh Hamelech to write Mishlei, Koheles and Shir Hashirim, and Daniel, Mordechai, Esther and others to write all the works that we call Kesuvim. This was also the level achieved by Eldad and Meidad, when they foretold the future (Bamidbar 11:26-27), and by the kohanim gedolim, when they requested advice or direction from the Urim Vetumim. It is noteworthy that the Rambam places Eldad and Meidad in this category, notwithstanding that the posuk says that they prophesied (misnabe’im).

While receiving this Divine gift, Dovid, Shelomoh, Daniel and the others retained full possession of their senses, which is why the Rambam explains that this is not true nevuah, in which a prophet reaches a state of trance. With this approach, the Rambam explains the passage of the Gemara wherein it states that Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi were prophets, although Daniel, who was not a prophet, perceived more than they did (Megillah 3a; Sanhedrin 94a). Daniel did not achieve the level of true prophecy, but his accomplishments in ruach hakodesh enabled him to foresee more than Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi did with their prophecy.

The Rambam does not consider Dovid, Shelomoh and Daniel to be true prophets, but to have received a high level of ruach hakodesh. This does not in any way demean these great Torah leaders of their spiritual genius and accomplishments. It is simply a definition of forms and levels of prophecy that different great Torah leaders achieved.

Other rishonim, such as Rashi (Megillah 14a), disagree with the Rambam and consider Dovid, Shelomoh and Daniel to be true prophets, and, presumably, also place Eldad and Meidad in the same category.

Kesuvim

At this point, we can answer the second of our opening questions: “What is the difference between Nevi’im and Kesuvim?” In other words, why did Chazal divide the non-Torah parts of Tanach into two sections, one called “Nevi’im” and the other called “Kesuvim?” According to the Rambam, the words of Nevi’im were received as prophecy (levels 3-11), whereas the words of the Kesuvim were received in ruach hakodesh. In the instances where the same person wrote seforim both in Nevi’im and Kesuvim, such as Yirmiyohu, who wrote the book of Nevi’im that bears his name, the book of Melachim, which is also in Nevi’im, and also Megillas Eicha, which is part of Kesuvim (Bava Basra 15a; Mo’ed Katan 26a), the book that is in Kesuvim was written with ruach hakodesh, whereas the books in Nevi’im were written with prophecy (Commentary of Abarbanel to Moreh Nevuchim).

Since Rashi understands that Dovid, Shelomoh and Daniel were prophets, and presumably is of the opinion that the books of Kesuvim are also written with prophecy, he cannot accept the Rambam’s approach to explain the difference between Nevi’im and Kesuvim. There are many other answers to explain what is the difference between Nevi’im and Kesuvim. In the work, Ohel Rivkah, by Rabbi Yitzchak Sender, several approaches to this question are quoted (pages 133-139).

(3-11) The words of the prophets

Levels numbered three through eleven of the Rambam are different intensities of prophecy (Moreh Nevuchim 2:44). Prophecy can be received either in a vision or in a dream. The prophet may perceive that Hashem is speaking to him, or that he is receiving communication via an angel, whom he might see and/or hear. He might hear and see a human or an unusual being talking to him, or he may hear only a voice or a series of different voices. It might even be a voice of someone who is familiar to him, such as when Shemuel heard what he thought was the voice of Eili (Shemuel I, Chapter 3). A prophet might receive a message that is meant only for his own erudition and growth, but not to be communicated to others, or he might receive a message that is meant to be told to others, as we see numerous times in Chumash and Navi (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 7:7). A prophet may receive a vision that is anywhere among these levels. The fact that he once received a more intense level of prophecy does not mean that his future prophecies will be as intense.

In the Rambam’s opinion, when the Torah describes, in parshas Shoftim: “A prophet from among you, from your brothers, like me (Moshe), will Hashem, your G-d, establish for you. You shall listen to him…. Then, Hashem said to me… ‘I will establish for you a prophet from among your brothers, like you, and I will put My words in his mouth – everything that I will command him’” (Devorim 18: 15-18), it is not referring to someone who received ruach hakodesh, but to someone who received true prophecy. Therefore, although the Torah prescribes a stern sentence for someone who pays no attention to the admonition of a prophet, that punishment does not apply to someone who ignored a message received through ruach hakodesh.

Two prophets

The Midrash teaches that ein shenei nevi’im misnabe’im besignon echod, two prophets will never prophesy using the exact same words (Pesikta and Midrash Seichel Tov, parshas Va’eira 9:14). This is because a prophet saw a vision, which he later describes. Each prophet still maintains his own personality and upbringing that is reflected when he describes what he saw. Since no two people have the same personality, no two people — not even prophets who see the same Divine vision — will describe what they saw using the exact same words.

Profitable prophet

The Rambam explains: “Prophecy is bestowed only to a very wise talmid chacham who is in total control of his personality traits. Prophecy can be achieved only by someone whose yetzeir hora never controls him – rather, he is in control of his yetzeir hora always.

Once he is filled with all these qualities, particularly tremendous and correct understanding, and he is physically complete and healthy, he may begin studying the deeper aspects of Torah. When he is drawn by these deep subjects, his great understanding must be channeled to becoming sanctified and to continue to grow spiritually. At this point, he separates himself from the ways of common people who follow the darkness of the time, and, instead, this individual constantly grows and spurs himself onward. He teaches himself to control his thoughts so as not to think of things that have no value. Rather, his thoughts should always be engaged with the Throne of Hashem, in his attempts to understand holy and pure ideas.… When the spirit of Hashem rests upon him, his soul becomes mixed with that of the angels… and he becomes a new person who understands that he is no longer the same as he was before, but that he has become elevated beyond the level of other talmidei chachomim”(Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 7:1).

In the Rambam’s opinion, while achieving true prophecy, every prophet, with the exception of Moshe Rabbeinu, goes into a trance. The nine different levels of prophecy that the Rambam describes in Moreh Nevuchim represent lesser or greater, clearer or more opaque communication from Hashem, but they are all in visions, allegories or dreams.

The intent of the prophecy is clear

It is clear to the prophet what message is intended, and he will be able afterward to explain, in his own words, what he envisioned and what was the message. Even after the prophetic experience has dissipated, the prophet has become a changed person who will live with this experience the rest of his life. This was the level of prophecy of the avos, Yehoshua, anyone whom the posuk calls a navi, and all authors of the books of Nevi’im.

Parshas Vayeira

Now that we understand a bit about how the Rambam categorizes the various levels of prophecy, we are faced with a conundrum regarding the first two pesukim of parshas Vayeira. In the first posuk, Hashem appears to Avraham, while he is sitting at the opening of his tent. In the second posuk, Avraham sees three travelers outside, in the midday heat of the desert, and he runs to greet them; and then, the posuk describes how Avraham invited them to rest and refresh themselves. The problem facing us is that, if all prophecy, except that granted to Moshe, required that the prophet be in a state of trance, how could Avraham have even noticed the three visitors or been able to run to greet them, invite them into his house and provide them with gracious hospitality?

The Rambam’s approach is that the appearance of three men in the desert near the entrance to Avraham Avinu’s tent was the beginning of the prophecy that Avraham Avinu received. All the chesed that Avraham performed, the ensuing conversation between Avraham and Sarah, the angels visiting Lot, the riot of the men of Sodom concerning Lot’s hachnasas orchim, and Avraham’s prayers and “negotiating” with Hashem to save Sodom were all part of the prophecy. Thus, all the events of the first chapters of the parsha are included in the prophecy received by Avraham, and these are introduced with the first words, “And Hashem appeared to him.”

The Ramban, in his commentary to the beginning of parshas Vayeira, takes great issue with the Rambam’s approach. To quote the Ramban: “How can the Torah say that Hashem appeared to Avraham, when [in the details of the prophecy that follows] all he saw was [not Hashem but] three men eating meat! He has no vision or thought of Hashem! This is unlike any other prophecy. Furthermore, according to the Rambam, Sarah never kneaded dough, Avraham never prepared meat and Sarah never laughed, but it was all a vision… what could possibly be the purpose in all this as a vision? In addition, according to the Rambam, no angels ever arrived at Lot’s house; he never baked matzos for them nor did they eat in his house, for it was all a vision! If Lot had achieved prophecy to see the angels, who told the people of Sodom of the arrival of these men in his house? Did they also achieve the level of prophets? And, if indeed, this was also part of the prophecy, when did the angels urge Lot to take his wife and daughters and escape from Sodom? And how did Lot negotiate with the angels to save one city?”

The Ramban disagrees with the Rambam that seeing an angel is a form of prophecy. After all, notes the Ramban, Hagar was not a prophetess, notwithstanding that she had a conversation with an angel, or perhaps four different angels (according to Rashi). (By the way, the Rambam explains that Hagar’s conversation was with a prophet, and not with an angel [Moreh Nevuchim 2:42]. He explains that in some places in Tanach the word malach should be translated as prophet and not as angel.)

Sefer Hazikaron

We should be aware that the Ritva, known predominantly for his commentaries to Shas, authored a work called Sefer Hazikaron,whose entire purpose was to answer questions raised by the Ramban, in his commentary on Chumash, against positions taught by the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim. The Ritva was a disciple of Rabbeinu Aharon Halevi (usually abbreviated to “ReAH”), who himself was a disciple  of the Ramban. The Ritva elucidates the Rambam’s opinions and answers the questions of the Ramban, but, invariably, concludes that the Ramban’s approach should be followed. In his understanding of parshas Vayeira, the Ramban’s approach is accepted by the vast majority of rishonim, including Rashi and the Ibn Ezra. I specifically mention the Ibn Ezra because, in many places where the Rambam’s philosophic approach influences how he understands Tanach, statements of Chazal, or halacha, the Ibn Ezra is often one of his major co-travelers. However, in his interpretation of this parsha, Ibn Ezra appears to follow the main highway of exposition – that Avraham interrupted his prophetic experience with Hashem to take care of his guests, and that his conversation with Hashem resumes later in the parsha.

Tehillim

At this point, let us examine the next of our opening questions: “Is Tehillim prophetic?” Assuming that we define prophetic as that which tells about future events, it is, since Dovid sings of events that had not yet occurred in his time, such as the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, which took place 417 years after his passing, and the tragedies that happened to the Jews in its aftermath (Tehillim 74, 79). Dovid Hamelech describes the emotional reaction to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and to finally reaching the rivers in Bavel (Tehillim 137), although these events transpired hundreds of years after his passing.

Conclusion

In Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #424 is entitled, “Not to test a true prophet too much.” The Sefer Hachinuch explains that if a navi is subjected to excessive evaluation to prove his veracity, those jealous or otherwise pained by his success may use inadequate testing as an excuse to disobey his commandments. They might deny the prophet’s authenticity by claiming, unjustifiably, that he did not undergo enough investigation. Thus, we see that even something so obvious as the ability of a great tzadik to foretell the future can be denied by people when they don’t want to accept the truth!

Maaser Kesafim

Since the first source of the obligation of maaser kesafim is in this week’s parsha…

Question #1: Paying for Your Kids in Kollel

“I agreed to support my married children for five years. May I use maaser money for this?”

Question #2: Chomesh

What is chomesh?

Question #3: Tuition

May I pay tuition out of maaser kesafim funds?

Question #4: Testing Hashem!

May I ask Hashem to pay me back for the tzedakah money that I give?

Which maaser?

We should first note that the term maaser, without specifying which one, is used sometimes in the Mishnah and Gemara to refer to maaser rishon, and sometimes to refer to maaser sheini, and, in later halachic works, sometimes also to maaser kesafim. These three types of maaser have vastly different laws from one another. Usually, one can understand from context which maaser is intended. If the context alludes to maaser owned by a Levi, or to the first maaser being separated, maaser rishon is intended. If it refers to something that has sanctity, usually maaser sheini is intended. If it refers to a percentage of one’s income that is donated to tzedakah, it refers to maaser kesafim.

The above questions all relate to shaylos about how much someone should donate to tzedakah and how he should prioritize his giving. It is well known that Rav Moshe Feinstein used to complain that these are areas of halacha about which he was asked too infrequently.

Maaser kesafim: giving ten percent of one’s moneys to tzedakah. The poskim dispute whether one subtracts household expenses from one’s income, before calculating maaser.

The concept of maaser is primarily in the case of ayn ani bifanav, when I fulfill the mitzvah by putting aside money for tzedakah. In a case of ani bifanav I do not fulfill my mitzvah by giving him only ten percent.

A person who distributes maaser kesafim to the poor is blessed with a special guarantee of wealth (Taanis 9a). This beracha happens only when someone is meticulous to calculate exactly a tenth of one’s income for tzedakah (Shu’t Avkas Rocheil #3). Furthermore, this beracha is fulfilled only if one gives this maaser money to the poor, but if one gives part of it to other causes, there is no guarantee that wealth will follow (see Shu’t Radbaz 3:441). Therefore, although one may use maaser kesafim to buy an aliyah, pay for a “mi’shebeirach,” purchase sefarim that will be used by the tzibur (Taz, Yoreh Deah 249:1) or similar communal needs, it is preferred to earmark maaser kesafim for the needs of the poor (Rema, Yoreh Deah 249:1). Donations to Torah institutions are considered distributions to the poor (Ahavas Chesed 2:19:2), as are hachnasas kallah expenses (to pay wedding and related expenses for a poor groom or bride).

Chomesh: giving twenty percent of one’s moneys to tzedakah. This is the optimal level of fulfilling mitzvas tzedakah, whereas setting aside ten percent is considered only “midah beinonis,” an average person’s conduct. Someone who gives a chomesh to tzedakah should first calculate and set aside one tenth, and then a second tenth.

Before starting to give regular amounts of tzedakah on an ongoing basis, one should declare that he is following this procedure bli neder, without accepting it as a vow.

Paying for Your Kids in Kollel from Maaser Money

“I agreed to support my married children for five years. May I use maaser money for this?”

The Chasam Sofer authored a responsum (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #231) on this subject, which is fascinating for the many different halachic issues that he clarifies. Someone had arranged the marriage of his scholarly son to the daughter of a talmid chacham,with the following understanding: The father of the son accepted that he would pay every week a certain amount to his mechutan, the bride’s father, who would sustain the young growing family in his home, thus enabling the son-in-law to continue his studies under his father-in-law’s direction. The father of the chosson realized that it will be difficult for him to meet this commitment, and wants to know if he can use the maaser money from his business endeavors to provide the support for which he is responsible.

The Chasam Sofer opens his discussion by quoting two opinions that seem to dispute whether it is acceptable to use maaser money for such an expenditure. The Rema, quoting the Maharil, contends that it is not permitted to use maaser money to pay for a mitzvah, such as donating lamps and candles to the shul, whereas the Shach states, in the name of the Maharam, that it is permitted to use maaser money for mitzvos. Thus, whether one may pay for mitzvos, other than supporting the poor, from maaser money appears to be a dispute among early authorities.

The Chasam Sofer then quotes the Be’er Hagolah, who explains that the two above-quoted opinions are not in dispute. All authorities prohibit using maaser money to fulfill a mitzvah that someone is already obligated to observe. The Maharam, who permitted using maaser money for these purposes, was discussing a case in which the donor intended to use maaser money for this mitzvah from the outset, whereas the Maharil is discussing a situation in which he has been using his maaser money to support the poor, in which case he cannot now divert it for other mitzvos that do not qualify as tzedakah for the poor. Thus, according to the Be’er Hagolah, whether the father can begin meeting his obligations to his son and mechutan with his maaser money will depend on whether he has already accepted the obligation on himself to pay this from other funds, in which case he cannotuse maaser money for it, or if it is an obligation that he is now accepting upon himself, in which case he can specify that he wants to use maaser money to fulfill it.

The Chasam Sofer does not consider the approach of the Be’er Hagolah to be fully correct. He (the Chasam Sofer) notes that the Maharil wrote that maaser moneys are meant to support the poor and not for the acquisition of mitzvos. Therefore, use of maaser money for any type of personal mitzvah is inappropriate, whether he is already obligated to fulfill the mitzvah or not.

The Chasam Sofer concludes that when someone begins donating maaser money, he may stipulate that, sometimes, the money will be used for a mitzvah donation, such as the lighting in shul. However, once he has begun donating his maaser money regularly to the poor, he must continue using it for tzedakah.

Family first

Having determined that there are definitely situations in which maaser money must be given to the poor, the Chasam Sofer then discusses when and whether money designated for the poor can be used to support an individual’s extended family. There is a general rule that one is obligated to the poor to whom one is closest – close family first, more distant family next, neighbors third, members of one’s city next and the out-of-town poor next.

Greater needs

Notwithstanding that family should be supported first, the Chasam Sofer quotes from his rebbi, the author of the Haflaah, that the rules of “closest first” or “family first” are only when the funds are necessary for the same level of need, for example, all have enough to eat, but not enough for clothing. However, if some are short of food, and others have enough to eat but are short on clothing or other needs, the responsibility to make sure that someone has enough to eat comes first, even for someone out of town, regardless of whether there are neighbors or locals who are needy, as long as they have sufficient food.

Yet, concludes the Chasam Sofer, this prioritization is not absolute. All needs of someone’s family are considered his responsibility before the basic needs of others. In other words, the priorities should be as follows:

(1) Family needs.

(2) Most basic needs – food – regardless of location of needy.

(3) People of one’s city.

(4) The out-of-town poor.

Chasam Sofer’s conclusion

If the father had stipulated, at the time of obligating himself to support his son, that he would use maaser money for this obligation, he would be able to use it. Even then, the Chasam Sofer recommends that he use only up to half of his available maaser money to support his son. His reasoning is based on a Mishnah (Peah 8:6) which says that someone is permitted to save his maaser ani (the tithe one gives to the poor in the third and sixth year of the shemittah cycle) to support those that he chooses to, but he should not set aside more than half of his maaser ani for this purpose; the rest should be given to the local poor.

However, this is only when he had originally planned to use maaser money for this purpose. Otherwise, once he created an obligation upon himself to support his son, it is similar to any other obligation that he has, and he may not use his maaser money for this purpose.

Tuition

Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that one should not pay tuition for sons and daughters in elementary school and high school from maaser funds, because this level of education is obligatory. However, someone eligible for a tuition reduction who elects to pay full tuition may pay the extra from maaser (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:113; also see Ahavas Chesed 2:19:2). If paying the expected amount of tuition without resorting to maaser funds creates hardship, one should ask a shaylah.

Yeshiva gedolah tuition and expenses may be paid from maaser, because a parent is not obligated to support a child at this age.

Testing Hashem!

At this point, let us discuss the last of our opening questions: “May I ask Hashem to pay me back for the tzedakah money that I give?”

It is generally prohibited to “test” Hashem, as the Torah states, “Lo senasu es Hashem,” “Do not test Hashem” (Devarim 6:16). One may not say, “I am performing this mitzvah so that Hashem will reward me by providing me with such-and-such (Sefer Yerei’im #361; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 395, 424; Shu’t Radbaz #882).

However, there is one exception to this rule – one may give maaser kesafim, expecting to be blessed with wealth as a reward (Taanis 9a, as explained by Shu’t Avkas Rocheil #3; Sefer Hassidim #144; Rema, Yoreh Deah 247:4; Ahavas Chesed 2:18. Cf. Shel”a and She’ei’las Ya’avetz #3, quoted in Pischei Teshuvah 247:2).

The Gemara (Taanis 9a) relates that, after Reish Lakeish’s passing, Rabbi Yochanan encountered his nephew (who was Reish Lakeish’s son). Rabbi Yochanan asked his nephew what he had learned in cheder that day. The nephew replied, “Te’aser kedei shetis’asher,” “Give maaser so that you get rich.”

“How do you know?” asked Rabbi Yochanan.

“Go test it,” answered the nephew, who then asked, “But is one permitted to test Hashem?”

Rabbi Yochanan replied, “I heard from my rebbe, Rabbi Hoshiyah, that this is an exception –because of the pasuk in Malachi (3:10), where Hashem begs us to test Him when giving maaser and see for yourself that He opens the windows of Heaven and grants blessings until our lips weary of saying ‘Enough!’”

We see from this that it is permitted to declare that I am giving the correct amount of tzedakah and expect that Hashem will reward me with wealth. I know several people who personally attest that this beracha was fulfilled!

Hybrid Halacha

Question #1: Grapes

Why is kilayim of grapes different from all the other kilayim prohibitions?

Question #2: Great Auks

Is it permitted to crossbreed auks and ducks?

Question #3: The Grand, Green Movers

I am green. Instead of trucks, may I use elephants, water buffalo and draft horses together to move my house?

Question #4: Accused of Graft!

Where does the Torah prohibit grafting trees?

Introduction:

In parshas Bereishis, the various species of animals and plants were instructed to reproduce lemi’neihem, according to their species, meaning that they were not to hybridize (crossbreed) with other species. These sources in parshas Bereishis bring to mind the several mitzvos taught later in the Torah not to mix species(Chullin 60a; Tosafos, Sanhedrin 60a; Ramban, Bereishis 1:26; Rashbam, Vayikra 19:19).

The word kilayim is translated by Onkelos and ibn Ezra (Vayikra 19:19) as “mixture,” although other commentaries understand that this word originates from the same Hebrew root as the word “prison,” beis ke’le (see Yeshayah, 42:22). This approach is quoted in the name of the Raavad (by the Rashas, in his commentary to the Yerushalmi, Kilayim 3:5) and by Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 19:19), who explains that the shoresh כ ל א means to keep or hold something back, and that the plural structure kilayim is similar to yadayim “hands” or raglayim “feet,” and means a pair. Therefore, the word kilayim means to treat as a pair two items (similar to our pair of hands) that are required to be kept separate.

Having explained the source of the word kilayim this way, there is no need to assume that Onkelos or ibn Ezra disagree. They are merely elucidating the word in the context of the posuk, where it means a forbidden mixture, whereas Rav Hirsch is explaining the etymological basis for this meaning.

Kilayim versus hybridization

It is important to clarify a common misconception. The prohibition of kilayim is not necessarily the creation of a new species — it is the appearance that one is mingling two species together. My desktop dictionary defines hybrid as “the offspring produced by breeding plants or animals of different varieties, species, or races.” Hybridization always involves making changes in the DNA of a species; most instances of kilayim do not. Planting seeds of different species in close proximity does not affect their genetic makeup – thus, technically, no hybridization transpires — yet it may be prohibited min haTorah. Similarly, wearing a garment manufactured from woolen and linen thread does not affect the two parent species or the DNA of the thread in the slightest.

Kilayim prohibitions

The Torah teaches about kilayim in two places, in parshas Kedoshim and in parshas Ki Seitzei. There the Torah mentions a total of six lo saaseh prohibitions, each of which is counted among the 365 lo saasehs that are included in the 613 mitzvos.

In parshas Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:19), the Torah teaches:

(1) Observe my laws! Do not mate your animal with a diverse species (kilayim).

(2) Do not plant your field with a diverse species.

(3) A garment containing diverse species called shatnez you shall not put upon yourself.

In parshas Ki Seitzei (Devorim 22:9-12), the Torah states:

(4) Do not plant diverse species in your vineyard

(5) lest what grows become sanctified (tukdash); the seed that was planted together with the growth of the vineyard.

(6) Do not plow with an ox and a donkey together.

(3, again) Do not wear shatnez, wool and linen together.

Of the six lo saaseh prohibitions counted here, the Torah calls four of them kilayim (which we translated as “diverse species”). The fifth, “lo sacharosh,” do not plow, prohibits different species of animals working together, such as plowing or pulling wagons, but is not called kilayim by the Torah.

The sixth is a prohibition against using what grew as kilayim in a vineyard. There is no prohibition in using any of the other mixtures, meaning that, although it is forbidden to hybridize different species of animals, crossbreed fruit, or plow with different species of animals, it is permitted to eat a crossbred fruit or what grew in a kilayim field other than a vineyard. Similarly, it is permitted to use a shatnez garment as long as I don’t wear it.

Grapes are different!

This leads us to our opening question: “Why is kilayim of grapes different from all the other kilayim prohibitions?” The product of kilayim of other species, including the fruit created by grafting and the mule created by mating a male donkey (jack) with a mare (female horse), are permitted to be used, even if a Jew created them in violation of the halacha. Only in the instance of kil’ei hakerem is there a prohibition to use what is produced.

This prohibition is derived from a careful reading of the pasuk, where the Torah states: Do not plant diverse species in your vineyard lest what grows become sanctified (tukdash); the seed that was planted together with the growth of the vineyard. None of the other kilayim prohibitions include an additional lo saaseh that applies to what grows afterward. The Torah’s method of conveying this law is the word tukdash. The Rashbam explains the word tukdash to mean sanctified — the produce becomes prohibited like kodashim are prohibited for personal use. Although other rishonim have different explanations of the word tukdash, all agree that the produce that grows there is prohibited for use min haTorah.

Why are vineyards different?

Why does the prohibition against benefitting exist only with regard to kilayim in a vineyard? The Chizkuni (Devorim 22:9) explains because otherwise this type of kilayim can slip by unnoticed; the wheat that grows in a vineyard does not look different from wheat grown in a wheat field, as opposed to shatnez and animal husbandry, where the item worn or produced is noticeable that it includes two different “species.” Note that the grafting of a tree is similarly highly noticeable, at least initially.

Animal Hybrids

Thousands of years ago, mankind crossbred horses and donkeys to create mules and hinnies. This hybrid, called a pered (female pirdah) is already mentioned many times in Tanach. As a pack animal, the mule, produced from a male donkey and a mare, may have advantages over either of its parents. It is usually as strong as a horse, yet sturdier and more sure-footed, and — notwithstanding its reputation for being “stubborn as a mule” — is often more reliable for hauling than draft horses. (A hinney, which has less commercial value, is produced from a female donkey [jenny] and a stallion.)

Not only is it prohibited to crossbreed a horse with a donkey, it is even forbidden to mate a mule or hinney with either a donkey or horse (Mishnah, Kilayim 1:6). In fact, it is rare that such an attempt will produce offspring, although it is claimed anecdotally that there are occasions in which a mule or hinney is fertile and reproduces.

Other crossbred animals

Artificial insemination has been used to crossbreed all sorts of species. Camels and llamas have been crossbred with the goal of producing a larger quantity of quality llama wool. Mankind has created such interesting creatures as ligers (crossbreeds of male lions and tigresses), tiglons (sometimes called tigons, from male tigers and lionesses), leopons (male leopards and lionesses), wholpins (whales and dolphins) and geeps (goats and sheep). Most of these have resulted in limited, if any, commercial value, although individuals unconcerned about the halachic ramifications thought that offspring of such crossbreeding might provide an economic advantage. Crossbreeding animal species is one of the prohibitions of the Torah, when it declares behemtecha lo sarbia kilayim (Vayikra 19:19).

Great auks

At this point, let us discuss the second of our opening questions: “Is it permitted to crossbreed auks and ducks?”

Although both varieties of birds spend much time in and over water, I presume that there would be a kilayim prohibition involved in attempting to crossbreed them. There is an additional problem in attempting to crossbreed great auks with ducks, since great auks have been assumed extinct for well over a century.

Pulling your weight

A similar question would be whether a circus show could use species of different animals to haul together. We know that the Torah prohibited this when it wrote lo sacharosh beshor vachamor yachdav, Do not plow with an ox and a donkey together. The juxtaposition of this mitzvah between other kilayim prohibitions implies that this is an extension of the laws of kilayim.

Some rishonim explain that the prohibition of having two different species haul a load together is a type of min haTorah gezeirah to avoid housing them together at night, which (they contend) would be prohibited as crossbreeding animals. We do find other instances of Torah prohibitions whose purpose is to prevent a more serious violation of the Torah. The classic example of this is the prohibition of bal yematzei, owning chometz on Pesach, which the Torah itself states is to avoid violating the more serious prohibition of eating chometz on Pesach (Shemos 12:19). A similar idea is yichud, which the Gemara (Kiddushin 80b) implies is a Torah violation, whose purpose is to discourage the more serious violation of arayos.

Unfair labor practices?

Notwithstanding that the Torah and the Mishnah both imply that the prohibition of lo sacharosh is because of kilayim, many early authorities explain this law because of other reasons. The ibn Ezra  explains that this is prohibited because, although a donkey is an excellent work animal, it is not “strong as an ox.” In other words, the “reason” for this mitzvah is to teach us to be concerned not to overburden the donkey.

I want to show a reverse case. During a tour I once took of a reconstructed nineteenth-century farm, the plow was being pulled by a draft horse together with a mule. The curators explained to me that they own both horses and mules, and teaming up to work together depends on the animal’s temperament, not necessarily its species. They can sometimes successfully team together a particular mule and a particular horse, and sometimes two horses or two mules will not pull their weight together. Apparently, in the animal world, your coworker is as important a factor in job satisfaction as it is in the human world.

However, from a halachic perspective, there are several unusual factors here. For one, mules are the offspring of male donkeys and mares (female horses). The halacha is that teaming a mule and a horse is prohibited min haTorah because they are different species, notwithstanding that their size and strength may be functionally equivalent. In other words, the reason that the ibn Ezra presents for the prohibition of lo sacharosh does not fit the halacha. Furthermore, the mitzvah of lo sacharosh permits matching a large mature draft horse with an undersized pony colt, notwithstanding that the young and small pony will have a very difficult time pulling its weight alongside its powerful coworker.

Nevertheless, we could still accept the ibn Ezra’s approach to analyzing the “reason” for this mitzvah. As noted by the Sefer Hachinuch, we can never, and should never, claim to understand the “reason” for a mitzvah. Why Hashem commanded us to perform a specific mitzvah is not something for us to try to prove or to rationalize. Unfortunately, such rationalizing has often led to individuals not complying with mitzvos. We know that this error was perpetrated even by the greatest of the great – for example, by Shelomo Hamelech when he accrued more wealth and wives than the Torah permits. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that taamei hamitzvah does not mean “reasons” for mitzvos, but that the word taam should be translated here as “taste,” meaning that these are ideas, messages, or tastes that we can apply to ourselves as lessons when we observe or study these mitzvos. The Rambam also agrees that “reasons” or “tastes” of mitzvos do not always reflect the halachic reality. (Those who oppose this approach to taamei hamitzvah rally around Rav Hirsch, who usually espouses reasons for mitzvos only after a highly detailed analysis of all its laws, and suggests taamei hamitzvah only when they fit the halachic details of the mitzvah.)

Graft

At this point, I am returning to the last question that I asked: “Where does the Torah prohibit grafting trees?” If we look carefully at the pesukim of kilayim prohibitions, quoted above, we will note that nowhere does the Torah explicitly prohibit the grafting of one species of fruit tree onto another, which is called in Hebrew harkavah. If, indeed, this prohibition is not mentioned in the Torah, how do we know that it is prohibited?

By means of a complicated homiletic derivation, based on the first words of the pasuk, Observe my laws, the Gemara  (Kiddushin 39a; Sanhedrin 60a) derives that harkavah, grafting a fruit tree onto a different species, is prohibited min haTorah. The Rambam (Hilchos Kilayim 1:5) concludes that it is included under the lo saaseh of sadecha lo sizra kilayim, the prohibition of planting different species of grains together.

Crossbreeding of plants

Crossbreeding of plants, or, as it is usually called, cross-fertilization or cross-pollination, is when one pollinates the flower of one species with pollen from a different species to produce offspring with some characteristics of each. Many fruits have been developed this way, although I want to share that a nectarine is not a crossbreed of a peach and a plum, as is often mistakenly thought. A nectarine is an ancient variety of peach (Prunus persica) that has a smooth skin. Botanists consider it to be the same species as peach. In their opinion, the difference between nectarines and peaches is the difference between two people who have different complexions or perhaps variant orientations of skin pigment, and certainly not a halachic consideration. I am unaware of anyone who has attempted to study this as a halachic issue. The practical difference is whether it is permitted to graft a nectarine scion onto a peach stalk or vice versa.

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

The prohibition applies to herbaceous, as opposed to woody plants, meaning that it does not apply to trees and shrubs, but it does apply to vegetables and many herbs. Thus, one may plant seeds of different trees together, yet one is forbidden to plant a mix of vegetable seeds (Rambam, Hilchos Kilayim 1:6).

Kil’ei zera’im

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

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

Kilayim in a vineyard, kil’ei hakerem

Kil’ei hakerem is the prohibition against planting grains or vegetables in or near a vineyard. Again, this forbidden planting will not affect the genetic makeup of any of the plants involved. It is also quite clear that this was not the concern in halacha, as we see from many of the halachic details. For example: although it is prohibited to plant grains or vegetables near a vineyard, it is permitted to separate the vegetable patch from the vineyard by placing a halachic wall between them. For this, two poles and a wire at the top, a tzuras hapesach, between the vegetable patch and the vineyard suffices (Eruvin 11a), similar to what we do when we construct an eruv to permit carrying on Shabbos.

It is quite clear that, botanically, the tzuras hapesach does not prevent the mingling of the species. Yet, with the tzuras hapesach, it is permitted to plant the grain and, without it, there is a Torah prohibition to do so! This certainly cannot be explained on a scientific basis.

Conclusion

Observing and studying the laws of kilayim reminds us how all of Hashem’s creation always follows His instructions. This reminds the contemplative Jew that, if the plants heed Hashem’s word, how much more must we strive to obey His instructions.

Gifts to the Poor

Question #1: Living in Chutz la’aretz

“I live in chutz la’aretz. Am I required to leave peah in my backyard vegetable patch?”

Question #2: Leaving in Today’s World

“Is there a requirement to leave leket, shich’cha and peah in your field today?”

Question #3: Cluster Alms

“Why is it important to know how a typical cluster of grapes looks?”

Introduction

While harvesting grain and other produce, the Torah presents six different mitzvah opportunities to provide for the poor: leket, shich’cha, peah, peret, oleilos, and maaser ani. These mitzvos, as well as many of the basic laws of the mitzvah of tzedakah, are discussed in the second mesechta of seder Zera’im, mesechta Peah, and in the commentaries thereon, including the Talmud Yerushalmi. As is the case with all the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, the agricultural mitzvos of the Torah, there is no Talmud Bavli on Peah, although many of its topics are discussed, sometimes in great detail, in scattered places.

This article will provide a basic understanding of some of these six mitzvos and cover a few select details. In so doing, we will answer some of the questions asked above and leave the others for a future article.

Let us begin by quoting the pesukim that introduce these mitzvos. In parshas Kedoshim, the Torah mentions the mitzvos of peah, leket, peret and oleilos: When you reap the harvest of your land, do not complete harvesting the corner of your field, and the “leket” of your harvest you should not collect. From your vineyard, do not remove the “oleilos,” and the “peret” of your vineyard you should not collect. Leave them for the poor and the stranger (Vayikra 19:9-10).

I deliberately did not translate the words leket, oleilos and peret, since I will explain what these technical terms mean. Two of these mitzvos, peah and leket, are repeated in parshas Emor (Vayikra 23:22), in the midst of the Torah’s discussion about the festival cycle (parshas hamo’ados): When cutting the harvest of your land, do not complete the reaping of the corner of your field while you are harvesting, and the “leket” of your harvest you should not collect. Leave them for the poor and the stranger. In addition, the two mitzvos of peret and oleilos are again discussed at the end of parshas Ki Seitzei (Devorim 24:21), immediately following the Torah’s instructing the mitzvah of shich’cha. (We will quote the sources for the mitzvos of shich’cha and matanos aniyim later in this article.)

Several halachos are quite clear from these pesukim, even without any commentary. The mitzvah is to leave behind these four items: peah, leket, oleilos and peret and allow the impoverished to help themselves. This implies that the owner may not choose or favor one pauper over another in the distribution of these gifts, and that neither he, nor anyone else, is even permitted to assist one poor person over another. To quote the Mishnah: He who does not allow the poor to collect, or allows one of them to collect but not another, or helps one of them is stealing from the poor (Peah 5:6). This law applies equally to anyone, not only the field owner, who assists one poor person over another (see Peah 4:9).

Corner

At this point, we will explain the basics of the mitzvah of peah. The requirement of peah is to set aside a portion of your field that you do not harvest. There is no minimal requirement min haTorah regarding how large a section of the field must be designated as peah. In other words, the Torah’s mitzvah is fulfilled if someone sets aside only one stalk of grain. To quote the Mishnah: These items have no measured requirement: Peah, bikkurim, appearing in the Beis Hamikdosh on the festivals, performing kind deeds and studying Torah (Peah 1:1). This Mishnah is the basis for a halachic passage that we say every morning after we recite birkas haTorah, but what we say daily has other parts added to it from other statements of Chazal.

Why does the Mishnah mention only these five mitzvos? Are there no other mitzvos that have no “minimum amount” required in order to fulfill them?

Indeed, these are the only five mitzvos that fulfill the statement that they have no measured requirement, because min haTorah, these mitzvos have no minimum and also no maximum, whereas all other mitzvos have either a minimum or a maximum, min haTorah. The commentaries on this Mishnah raise questions about several other mitzvos that seemingly should be included in this list, making it more than five, and explain why each of these other mitzvos is not mentioned (Rash; Tosafos Yom Tov; Mishnah Rishonah).

Not all produce

Returning to the laws of peah, not everything that is grown must have peah separated from it. The Mishnah notes that only produce that has five specific characteristics is included in the mitzvah of peah. To quote the Mishnah: They (the earlier authorities) stated a rule regarding peah. Anything that (1) is food, (2) is guarded, (3) is nourished from the ground, (4) is reaped at one time, and (5) is brought in for long-term storage is obligated in peah. Grain and legumes are always assumed to be included (Peah 1:4).

In other words, the following categories of produce are exempt from peah:

(1) Products grown for feed or for dyestuffs (such as woad or indigo).

(2) Produce that is hefker, meaning that it is evident that the owner has no concern if other people take it.

(3) Cultivated mushrooms, truffles, and other fungi, because they do not draw their nourishment from the ground.

(4) Some varieties of produce do not ripen all at once. Instead, they are harvested in stages, as each fruit ripens. These types of products, such as figs, are exempt from the mitzvah of peah.

(5) Many varieties of vegetables and other produce cannot be stored unless they are frozen or canned. Any of these types of produce are exempt from peah. However, items that can be dried or stored as is, such as grain, beans, peas, carobs, nuts, grapes (can be stored either as wine or as raisins), olives (as oil) or dates (dried) are obligated in peah.

How much peah?

Earlier, we quoted the Mishnah that ruled that the Torah requirement of the mitzvah of peah has no minimum size. The Mishnah subsequently teaches that although the Torah did not require a minimum to fulfill this mitzvah, Chazal did, enacting a rule requiring the owner to set aside at least 1/60 of his field as peah. Furthermore, he is required to set aside a larger part than this for peah under some special circumstances, such as, he had a bumper crop, he is exceptionally wealthy, there are a lot of poor or the impoverished are exceptionally needy (Peah 1:2 according to various commentaries).

Corner

Must peah be in a corner of the field?

Notwithstanding that the Torah calls the mitzvah peah, and that, in the context of other mitzvos of the Torah, the word peah means a corner of some type, it is not required to set aside peah in a corner of the field, nor does it necessarily have to be set aside when the harvest is finished. In addition, at the beginning of the harvest, the owner may designate a part of his field as peah. To quote the Mishnah: You can give peah from the beginning of the field or from its middle (Peah 1:3).

Three times a day, the owner must appear at his field to allow the poor to collect what they are entitled (Peah 4:5). The three times of the day are in the morning, at midday and towards the late part of the afternoon. There appears to be a dispute among halachic authorities exactly what this Mishnah is ruling. According to some authorities, the poor may not enter the field unless the owner, or his representative, is there, but the owner is required to be there at these three times, or otherwise appoint a representative in his stead, who will be in the field these three times every harvest day (Rashas; Mishnah Rishonah).

The Rambam appears to understand the Mishnah and the halacha somewhat differently: The poor may not enter the field at any other time, but during these three times they are free to enter, whether or not the owner or his representative are there (Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 2:17). In his opinion, the Mishnah should be understood as follows: “Three times a day the pauper may appear at the field.”

Nobody get hurt!

The halacha is that the poor people reaping the peah may not use sickles or spades to gain access to the leftover produce. Since many poor people are in the field, and they are not coordinating their activities, using a heavy tool could cause someone to get hurt (Peah 4:4).

Exceptional distributions

As noted above, peah and the other matanos aniyim that we have so far discussed should be left for the poor to take for themselves. However, there are exceptions:

(1) Something that is dangerous for the poor to harvest themselves. The Mishnah (Peah 4:1) chooses two examples of fruit — dates and grapes growing on trellises — where it might be dangerous for the poor to harvest the peah themselves (Rosh, Rav and Rashas ad loc.). Dates grow only on the new growth of a date palm. Since the dates will be only on the top of the tree and a palm tree can grow quite tall, it could certainly endanger the poor people, should they have to harvest the dates themselves.

Similarly, grapes grow on vines which are basically runners, rather than strong trees. To maximize the quantity and quality of their crop, it is common that vinedressers (people who cultivate grapevines) construct wooden frames called trellises, looking something like a jungle gym, and train the grape vines, which are very easy to educate, to grow on these trellises. However, it is not safe to allow the poor people to come collecting the peret grapes by themselves from trellises. Numerous poor people may attempt simultaneously to collect the grapes left on a trellis, and a trellis may not be strong enough to hold their collective weight.

To avoid people endangering themselves, in these instances the harvester cuts down the peah fruit and distributes what is there evenly among the poor who have assembled (Peah 4:1).

(2) A second case where the owner should harvest and distribute the produce is when all of the poor people who have arrived at the field want it divided evenly (Peah 4:2).

Maaser ani

Maaser ani is mentioned in parshas Ki Savo, where the Torah states: When you complete the tithing of all the tithes of your produce in the third year, the year of the special tithe, then you shall make certain to give it to the Levi, the stranger, to the orphan and the widow, and they shall eat it within the gates of your cities and be satisfied (Devorim 26:12).

This posuk talks about creating at least two different tithes, and mentions that the third year has a special tithe that the earlier years do not have. In the third year, you must then give one maaser to the Levi, which we call maaser rishon, and a second maaser to the stranger, orphan or widow, which is clearly meant to be a maaser for the poor. This mitzvah of maaser ani is also mentioned in an indirect way, in parshas Re’eih (Devorim 14:28-29).

Thus, there is a fundamental difference between maaser ani and the other gifts to the poor in that, in general, the others are left for the poor people to help themselves. In other words, a poor person who is more agile and willing to work hard can collect a great deal more leket, shich’cha, peah, peret and oleilos then someone who has difficulty getting around. However, the posuk in parshas Ki Savo states that the owner gives the maaser ani to the poor. This implies that he can choose which poor person he wants to provide. In general, it is his to distribute to the poor, as he chooses.

Answering questions

At this point, we have enough background to the general laws of these mitzvos that we can return to of our opening questions.  The first question was: “I live in chutz la’aretz. Am I required to separate peah on my backyard vegetable patch?”

In other words, do any of these mitzvos of matanos la’aniyim apply outside Eretz Yisroel?

Matanos aniyim in chutz la’aretz

Although these mitzvos are halachically categorized as mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, agricultural mitzvos, and the general rule is that these mitzvos apply only in Eretz Yisroel (Mishnah Kiddushin 36b), the Gemara (Chullin 137b) mentions that the mitzvah of peah applies in chutz la’aretz as a rabbinic injunction, and the Rambam explains that this includes all matanos aniyim (Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 1:14). We find this applies to several other of the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, including challah, chodosh, terumos and maasros (because of space constraints, the details and definition of these different mitzvos will be left for other articles).

However, this does not yet resolve our question; regarding rabbinic injunctions germane to mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz that are extended to chutz la’aretz, we find two different sets of rules:

In the case of challah, the mitzvah is applied to anywhere in chutz la’aretz. This is why, no matter where you live, you are obligated to separate challah from a large enough dough.

On the other hand, in the case of terumos and maasros, the requirement to separate them in chutz la’aretz applies only in lands near Eretz Yisroel, such as Mitzrayim, Amon, and Moav – today corresponding to parts of Egypt, Jordan and the Sinai and Negev deserts. There is no requirement to separate terumos and maasros from produce grown in Europe, anywhere else in Africa, the vast majority of Asia, and certainly not from produce grown in the Americas or Australia. (Which rule applies to chodosh is a topic for a different time.)

The question at hand is whether the matanos aniyim have the same halacha that applies to terumos and maasros, and therefore they apply only in lands near Eretz Yisroel, or whether they are treated like challah and apply everywhere. Most authorities conclude that the obligation of matanos aniyim applies only in places near Eretz Yisroel.

At this point, let us focus on the other question that we posed: “Is there a requirement to leave leket, shich’cha and peah in your field, today?”

Answering this question correctly requires that we explain another principle. Above I mentioned the Mishnah that states that if all of the poor people in a certain place want the peah to be divided evenly among them, rather than being available for each to forage as best he can, indeed the peah is divided evenly among the local poor. We can ask a question: Granted that the local poor people all agree to divide the matanos aniyim equally, however, these gifts do not belong only to them. All poor people, no matter where they live, are entitled to these matanos. If so, how can the locals decide to divide among themselves the matanos aniyim without taking into consideration the rights of those elsewhere, who are also potential owners of the matanos aniyim?

The answer is that the poor people who are not here have clearly been me’ya’eish, implicitly given up their legal right to the matanos aniyim that are here (see Bava Metzia 21b). The poskim conclude that any situation in which the owner can assume that the poor will not come to collect the matanos aniyim that are left in the field, he is permitted to collect them (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 1:62).

Conclusion

In the days of King Munbaz there was a drought, and he distributed the entire royal treasury, accumulated over several generations, to the poor. His family members protested, saying that his predecessors had all increased the wealth of the monarchy, and Munbaz was disbursing it. Munbaz responded, “My ancestors stored below, and I stored above. They stored their wealth in a place where it could be stolen, and I stored in a place from where it cannot be stolen. They stored items that do not produce profits and I stored items that do. They stored money, and I stored lives. They stored for others, and I stored for myself” (Bava Basra 11a).

Planting Kil’ayim

Question #1: Spelt

I understand that spelt is a type of wheat. May I plant a small patch of it next to my wheat field?

Question #2: Trees and Ornamentals

I purchased a property in Israel that has grapes and other trees and ornamentals growing on it. What do I do to avoid violating the prohibition of kil’ayim?

Question #3: Tomatoes

May I plant various types of tomatoes next to one another?

Foreword:

In parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah teaches the mitzvah not to plant your vineyard with kil’ayim (Devarim 22:9), after which the Torah mentions two other kil’ayim prohibitions: doing work with different animal species together and wearing shatnez. In parshas Kedoshim, the Torah introduces several mitzvos called kil’ayim when it says, “You shall keep my laws. You shall not breed your animals as kil’ayim, you shall not plant your field as kil’ayim and you shall not wear kil’ayim shatnez garments” (Vayikra 19:19).

I have written many times about the prohibitions of wearing shatnez, grafting one tree min (species) onto another and crossbreeding animals, but I have never written an article devoted to this week’s topic — the kil’ayim prohibitions in a vineyard and in a field. Please note that this article is only a general introduction to these mitzvos and not halacha le’maaseh — the topics are far more complex than can be covered in one article. For this reason, the opening questions in this article are going to be left unanswered.

Kil’ei hakerem

Kil’ei hakerem is the prohibition of planting an herbaceous (meaning non-woody, i.e.  – a plant other than a trees or a shrub), cultivated plant in a vineyard or adjacent to a grapevine. This mitzvah applies min haTorah in Eretz Yisrael and as a rabbinic prohibition in chutz la’aretz (Orlah 3:9; Kiddushin 39a). It also includes planting above or below grapes, such as, if the vine is trained onto a trellis or other framework.

Kil’ei hakerem is the only instance in which the Torah prohibits using what grows in violation of the kil’ayim prohibition. Other kil’ayim mitzvos prohibit only the act, but what grows or develops as a result may be used. (The Yerushalmi, Kil’ayim 1:4, permits using even the cutting developed from a forbidden graft.)

There is a major dispute among tana’im and rishonim whether kil’ei hakerem applies even when planting one species other than grapes in a vineyard, or only when two species other than the grapes are planted in a vineyard. Rav Yoshiyah rules that the lo sa’aseh of kil’ei hakerem applies only when planting both wheat and barley (or any two other species that are kil’ayim with one another) in a vineyard. Since the Torah says, “You shall not plant kil’ayim in your vineyard,” Rav Yoshiyah understands this to mean that someone is planting two varieties that are kil’ayim with each other, in a vineyard, which compounds the prohibition.

Vineyard vs. vines

There are major halachic differences between a few grapevines and what is halachically called a vineyard. The most prominent difference is that it is prohibited to plant any type of grain or most vegetables within four amos (about seven feet) of a vineyard, whereas it is forbidden to plant only within six tefachim, which is less than two feet, of a grapevine that is not part of a vineyard.

What is a vineyard?

So, what is a vineyard?

The halacha is that a vineyard must have at least five grapevines growing, four of which are positioned in a rectangle or square. Exactly how the fifth vine is planted is unclear from the Mishnah (Kil’ayim 4:6), and is disputed by the halachic authorities. The Chazon Ish rules that a vineyard requires that the fifth vine continues in a straight line from two of the other vines. In other words, the minimum definition of a vineyard is two parallel grape plantings, one of at least three plantings and the other of at least two.

Others contend that the fifth vine can also be similar to the way one would envision, from a bird’s eye view, the location of the tail relative to the four legs of an animal standing in rapt attention. The four legs form a rectangle, and the tail is alongside the rectangle, but opposite the middle of a side rather than the continuation of one of its sides (Rambam, Peirush Mishnayos, Kil’ayim 4:6; Tosafos Yom Tov; cf., however, Rambam, Hilchos Kil’ayim 7:7).

If five vines have been planted this way, and alongside them many more vines were planted haphazardly, the disorganized vines might not be considered a vineyard, but individual vines. The practical difference is whether vegetables and grains may be planted nearby, as long as they are more than six tefachim from the vines, or whether the laws of a vineyard apply, which requires a much more substantive distance of four amos. In both instances, construction of a tzuras hapesach or other mechitzah will allow planting the vegetables or grains alongside the vines, as long as the mechitzah separates between the vines and the vegetables or grains.

One row of grapevines is not considered a vineyard, even if it contains hundreds of plantings (Kil’ayim 4:5). This means that one may plant vegetables or grains alongside the grapes, as long as there is a six tefachim distance between them.

Kil’ei hakerem in chutz la’aretz

The rules of kil-ei hakerem in Eretz Yisrael are stricter than they are in chutz la’aretz. In chutz la’aretz, there is a rule, kol hameikil ba’aretz, halacha kemoso bechutz la’aretz. For our purposes, this rule means that since the law of kil’ei hakerem in chutz la’aretz is only miderabbanan, Chazal ruled that whenever a recognized scholar ruled that a particular situation is not considered kil’ayim in Eretz Yisrael, even when the halachic conclusion rules against him, one may follow this minority position in chutz la’aretz. For example, since Rav Yoshiyah rules that kil’ei hakerem is prohibited only when planting two species (that are already prohibited together) in a vineyard, this is the only act of kil’ei hakerem prohibited in chutz la’aretz. However, in Eretz Yisrael, there is concern over planting even a single type of vegetable in a vineyard.

Kil’ei zera’im

Kil’ei hasadeh or kil’ei zera’im (two ways of referring to the same prohibition) is planting two non-woody (also called “herbaceous”) commonly cultivated plants or seeds near one another, planting one species very close to another, already-planted species, or planting the seeds of one species on top or inside a specimen of another species. This mitzvah applies only in Eretz Yisrael. In chutz la’aretz, it is permitted to plant two herbaceous plants next to one another, although some authorities prohibit planting the seed of one species on top of or inside another in chutz la’aretz (Rambam, Hilchos Kil’ayim 1:5; Tosafos Chullin 60a s.v. Hirkiv). Therefore, in Eretz Yisrael, someone planting a garden patch must be very careful to keep the different species separate.

Both prohibitions, kil’ei hakerem and kil’ei zera’im exist, even if the species are not intentionally planted together, but grew on their own (Kil’ayim 2:5). In this instance, if the two species are too close together, one either must pull out one, or, as we will see shortly, build a mechitzah between them.

Introductions

Several important introductions will facilitate understanding the laws of these mitzvos.

A. Firstly, many assume that kil’ayim prohibits hybridization or crossbreeding (two ways of saying the same thing) of unlike species, or, in simpler terms, attempting to mix genetic material and create new species. However, this approach is inaccurate, since only one of the many kil’ayim prohibitions, crossbreeding animals, attempts to create something that does not occur in nature. All the other mitzvos ban the appearance of mixing two species. This distinction is very important in understanding many of the laws of kil’ayim.

B. Secondly, for clarity’s sake, I will use the word “species” in this article to mean items that halacha prohibits “mixing.” The dictionary definition of the word “species” is “a pool of individuals that breed together and will not breed with other individuals.” However, neither halacha nor science uses this definition. Since this article is a halachic talk about kil’ayim, I will discuss only aspects of the halachic definition germane to these mitzvos.

What defines a halachic species? Although there is a great degree of uncertainty about this, certain principles can be derived from the various passages, particularly of the Talmud Yerushalmi Kil’ayim.

(1) Two varieties that naturally cross-pollinate are halachically considered one species (see Yerushalmi Kil’ayim 1:2).

(2) At times, similarity of leaves or appearance or taste of the fruit are sufficient evidence to consider two varieties as members of the same species (Yerushalmi Kil’ayim 1:5). Small differences are never considered significant (Bava Kama 55a). Thus, different varieties, one of which grows wild and the other of which is cultivated, are usually one species (Mishnah Kil’ayim 1:2). Frequently, the rules are difficult to define and, therefore, most authorities recommend not growing two similar varieties of squash or beans together.

C. It is also important to note that the definition of “species” for the laws of kil’ayim is not the same as it is for the laws of challah. Spelt and wheat are considered different minim for the laws of kil’ayim, notwithstanding that they are the same min for the laws of challah. (This means that dough made of spelt and wheat flour can combine to create enough dough to be obligated to separate challah, notwithstanding that wheat and spelt cannot be planted next to each other.)

Cultivated

D. As I mentioned above, kil’ei zera’im and kil’ei hakerem apply only to species that are cultivated or maintained in your location for food, forage, clothing, dye or other similar purposes. The Mishnah states that the laws of kil’ayim apply to a species called zunin,usually understood to be darnel, a ryegrass that, in earlier generations, was used as bird seed. Planting zunin in a field of barley, rye, oats or spelt violates the prohibition of kil’ei zera’im. (Why it is permitted to plant zunin in a wheat field [Mishnah Kil’ayim 1:1] is a topic that we will leave for a different time.)

Proximity

Planting two crop species together or near one another is prohibited as kil’ayim. How far apart the two species must be depends on several factors, including the layout of the planting and what and how much was planted. In some situations, when growing small amounts of certain vegetables, planting the two species in alternate patterns is sufficient to permit the planting, notwithstanding that the different species grow alongside one another (Kil’ayim 3:1; Shabbos 84b ff.).

Between two grain fields of different species — for example, one growing spelt and the other rye — there needs to be an empty area greater than ten amos squared, approximately twenty feet by twenty feet, between the two fields. On the other hand, between two kinds of vegetables, the requirement is that the separating area be only six tefachim squared, approximately two feet by two feet. And even the size of this requirement is only miderabbanan. Min haTorah there is a dispute among rishonim whether the distance is one tefach squared, or 1.5 tefachim squared (Raavad, Hilchos Kil’ayim). The Chazon Ish (5:1) ruled according to the Rambam, the lenient opinion, that requires only one tefach squared, approximately four inches by four inches.

Mechitzah

Although we usually think of mechitzah as a separation necessary in a shul, the word has significance in several other areas of halacha, and particularly in the laws of kil’ayim. For the purposes of kil’ayim, whenever one wants to plant two species and there is not enough space to allow this, a halachically acceptable separation between the plantings permits the planting (Kil’ayim 2:8; 4:6). The rules here are similar to what is called a mechitzah for other halachos, including permitting carrying on Shabbos, although, for the laws of Shabbos, the entire area must be enclosed by mechitzos on all sides. For the laws of kil’ayim, it suffices that there is a halachic divider separating the plantings from one another. Among the many ways that someone can separate the two areas is by building a wall that is ten tefachim tall (approximately 32-40 inches) or piling rocks to a height of ten tefachim. Another option is a furrow or crevice in the ground, either natural or dug, that is ten tefachim deep.

The Mishnah (Kil’ayim 4:4) notes that lavud, openings that are smaller than three tefachim (about ten inches), does not invalidate a mechitzah, and therefore a fence that is more open than closed, but is ten tefachim tall, is a valid mechitzah for kil’ayim purposes. Similarly, one may build a “wall” with sticks placed either horizontally or vertically every three tefachim, and it is a satisfactory mechitzah.

This means that someone may have a vineyard on one side of a fence, in which the grapes grow alongside the fence, and plant grain or vegetables on the other side of the fence; it is completely permitted, even though the two crops may be growing within inches of one another.

Gaps

Large gaps in the middle of a mechitzah may not invalidate it. The general halachic principle is that an area that is mostly enclosed is considered “walled,” even in its breached areas (Kil’ayim 4:4; Eruvin 5b). For example, a yard enclosed by hedges tall enough to qualify as halachic walls may be considered enclosed, notwithstanding that there are open areas between the hedges, since each side is predominantly enclosed either by the hedges or by the house. This is true as long as the breach is smaller than ten amos,about 17 feet (Kil’ayim 4:4). This means that someone may have a vineyard on one side of the hedges (inedible growths usually do not create prohibited kil’ayim), and grain or vegetables on the other side of the hedges, even though the two crops may be extremely close to one another.

Tzuras hapesach

The Gemara (Eruvin 11a) rules that a tzuras hapesach, which we customarily use to make to enclose an area to permit carrying on Shabbos, may be used to separate two species, so that there is no prohibition of kil’ayim. A tzuras hapesach consists of two vertical side posts and a horizontal “lintel” that, together, vaguely resemble a doorway. Thus, it is permitted to grow a vineyard on one side of the tzuras hapesach and grain or vegetables on the other side.

Weeding

What about weeds? Do weeds present a kil’ayim concern?

As anyone who gardens knows, the definition of a “weed” is whatever the gardener does not want in his garden. Halachically, if the “weed” is from a species that is not maintained in your area, it is not a kil’ayim concern.

Conclusion

Targum Onkelos (Vayikra 19:19 and Devarim 22:9) understands the word kil’ayim to mean “mixture.” However, other commentaries explain the origin of the word from the Hebrew root כלא, the same as the word beis ke’le “prison” (see Bamidbar 11:28). Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 19:19) explains that the root כלא means to hold something back, and that the plural form kil’ayim — similar to yadayim, hands, or raglayim, feet — means a pair. Therefore, the word kil’ayim means to pair together two items that should be kept apart.

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

In addition, observing the laws of kil’ayim helps us remember how various species obeyed Hashem’s instructions to remain separate during their creation. This reminds the contemplative Jew that if the plants heeded Hashem’s word during the Creation, how much more are we obligated to obey His instructions!

Specific Species

Question #1: Wolf and Dog

Are wolves and dogs members of the same species?

Question #2: Bactrian and Dromedary

May I haul a wagon with two camels, a Bactrian and a dromedary?

Question #3: Tangelo

Is it permitted to crossbreed tangerine and grapefruit to create a tangelo?

Question #4: Crabapples

May I graft an apple branch onto a crabapple trunk?

Foreword:

At the beginning of parshas Noach, Rashi teaches us that, during the moral chaos that led to the Mabul, even members of the animal kingdom mated outside their species (min), something that no self-respecting and ethical animal would ever do.

At this point, we need to ask what is meant by min, which is usually translated as species. The dictionary definition of the word “species” is a pool of individuals that can breed together and do not breed with other individuals.

However, we will soon see that neither halacha nor science uses this definition. It is important that, when studying the Talmudic, aggadic and halachic topics germane to kil’ayim, we must understand properly the Torah’s meaning of the term “species.”

Crossbreeding

Many halachically knowledgeable people assume that the purpose of the laws of kil’ayim is to prohibit the hybridization or crossbreeding (two ways of saying the same thing) of unlike species, or, in simpler terms, not to attempt creating new biological species or to mix genetic material of different species. However, we will soon demonstrate that this assumption is specious, since it is inconsistent with halachic accuracy for two completely different reasons:

A. Most kil’ayim prohibitions have nothing to do with creating new species.

B. In numerous instances, the laws of kil’ayim permit mingling two varieties that are biologically different species, and there are situations in which the laws of kil’ayim prohibit mingling two varieties that are biologically considered members of the same species.

Types of kil’ayim

First, we will demonstrate that kil’ayim prohibitions rarely have anything to do with creating new species (point A). Mesechta Kil’ayim deals with six different mitzvos involving the intermingling of species:

1. Crossbreeding animal species. This prohibition is called harva’as beheimah, or sometimes simply harva’ah. In this instance, as in most of the cases of kil’ayim, there is no prohibition against using the product created by someone who violated the prohibition. Thus, it is permitted to use a mule, notwithstanding that mating a donkey with a mare to produce a mule violates a lo sa’aseh min haTorah.

2. Using two animal species to haul or work together. This mitzvah is usually called lo sacharosh, as in the words of the Torah: lo sacharosh beshor uvachamor yachdav,“Do not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (Devarim 22:10).

3. Grafting different tree species, harkavas ilan, which prohibits inserting a shoot or scion of one species into the wood stock, or lower trunk, of another species. Note that it is completely permitted to plant different species of trees next to each other (Yerushalmi, Peah 1:4).

4. Planting a non-woody edible plant, such as a vegetable or grain, in a vineyard. (A “non-woody” or “herbaceous” plant is a plant other than a tree or a shrub.) This prohibition is called kil’ei hakerem, and applies min haTorah only in Eretz Yisrael, although it does apply in chutz la’aretz as a rabbinic prohibition. This mitzvah is atypical in that it is the only prohibition of kil’ayim whose product is prohibited to use, min haTorah.

5. Planting two non-woody edible plants near one another. This mitzvah, called kil’ei hasadeh, kil’ayim of the field, applies only in Eretz Yisrael. In chutz la’aretz it is permitted to plant two herbaceous plants next to one another.

6. Wearing shatnez, clothing that includes both wool and linen. The prohibition is limited to wearing such clothing.

The two mitzvos of kil’ei hakerem and kil’ei hasadeh, apply min haTorah only in Eretz Yisrael, whereas the others apply min haTorah both in Eretz Yisrael and in chutz la’aretz.

I stated above that kil’ayim prohibitions usually have little or nothing to do with the creation of new species. Crossbreeding of plants involves pollinating the flower of one species with pollen from a different species. But none of the agricultural mitzvos listed above has anything to do with hybridization.

Let’s take a more careful look at the three agricultural prohibitions: 3, 4, and 5, above. In the cases of herbaceous, or non-woody, plants, kil’ayim is planting two crop species near one another (#5) or planting them inside a vineyard (#4). But planting the seeds of different species in close proximity does not change the DNA of the species or cause any hybridization, nor does it cause anything to grow of a variety different from either parent.

In the case of trees and shrubs, harkavas ilan (#3) means grafting one species onto another. When you graft a branch of one species onto the stock of another, the fruit that grows has the DNA of the scion branch and no DNA material of the species of the stock.

Also note that these three kil’ayim prohibitions are limited to species in which some part of the plant is edible.

Wool and linen

Wearing a garment that contains both wool and linen (#6) does not cause any hybridization. Wool grows on sheep, and linen is the product of a flax plant. Combining the two textiles in a garment does not affect their genetic material.

Lo sacharosh

Although some wish to explain that the prohibition of using two animal species to haul or otherwise be worked together is out of concern that someone will house them together or otherwise cause them to mate (Alshich, Devarim 23), there are many other ways to explain the “reason” for this prohibition (see, for example, Ibn Ezra, Devarim 22:10).

Harva’as Beheimah

The only one of the six kil’ayim prohibitions that involves hybridization is harva’as beheimah. But I presume that my readers agree that it is very strange to provide a reason for six different mitzvos that does not apply to five, or, possibly, not to four of them!

And, although we usually translate the word kil’ayim as “mixture,” some commentaries associate this word with the root כלא, as in the word “prison,” beis ke’le. Rav Hirsch explains the root word ke’le as holding something back, keeping someone incarcerated. The plural form kil’ayim is structurally similar to yadayim, raglayim or kesafayim,and means “a pair.” Thus, the word kil’ayim means pairing together items that should be kept apart (Hirsch Commentary to Vayikra 19:19), a definition that fits all six categories of kil’ayim, but has nothing to do with hybridization.

Dogs and wolves

My second point above (point B) is that there are numerous instances where the laws of kil’ayim permit mingling two kinds that are biologically considered different species, and there are also many instances in which the laws of kil’ayim prohibit mingling two kinds that are biologically considered the same species.

To explain, I will first pick examples in the animal world and then in the plant world. The Mishnah (Kil’ayim 1:6) states that wolves and dogs are kil’ayim together; it is forbidden to crossbreed them or to have them haul a load together. Yet, wolves and dogs breed together freely in the wild. Thus, we see that kil’ayim is not dependent on whether the varieties breed together.

From the Yerushalmi and the halachic authorities it appears that several factors are used to determine whether two varieties are considered different species, including how mankind views them, as the Torah teaches, “Hashem had created… all the animals of the field and the birds of the sky and He brought them to the man to see what he would call them… And the man gave names to all the domesticated animals and the birds of the sky and the animals of the field (Bereishis 2:19-20). This implies that man understood the purpose or uniqueness of each species and how it should be categorized, separately, from all other species.

Scientific dogs

The scientific system for classifying species, developed by Carl Linnaeus in the eighteenth century, names every species by two words: the first, its genus, which is capitalized, and the second, a lower case word for its species. Occasionally, a third word, also lower case, is added to indicate subspecies, which can also be called race, ethnic group, breed, variety or cultivar. (Humans are divided into races and ethnic groups, dogs into breeds, fruits and vegetables into varieties – or cultivars for boutique products.) Linnaeus categorized dogs as Canis familiaris and wolves as Canis lupus,meaning that he considered them two separate species. Today, most scientists categorize domesticated dogs as Canis lupus familiaris, which means that Canis lupus refers to a single species that includes both wolves and dogs, and familiaris is added for any domesticated dog breed.

An interesting comparison can be made with the dingo, a non-domesticated Australian dog. I checked Wikipedia regarding the dingo’s classification, and found the following: “The dingo, Canis familiaris, Canis familiaris dingo, Canis dingo, or Canis lupus dingo, is an ancient lineage of dog found in Australia. Its taxonomic classification is debated, as indicated by the variety of scientific names presently applied in different publications. It is variously considered a form of domestic dog not warranting recognition as a subspecies (Canis familiaris), a subspecies of either dog or wolf (Canis familiaris dingo or Canis lupus dingo), or a full species in its own right (Canis dingo).” I note that Wikipedia assumes that wolves and dogs are considered separate species.

The contemporary scientific world no longer defines a species by its ability to breed together and not to breed with a different species. As contemporary science has reinvented itself in the modern world, including its widespread misconceptions of spontaneous evolution of species and its unproved hypotheses regarding the origin of species, it can no longer use the definitions of breeds as its basis for defining species. This is because it accepts that species eventually mutate naturally into new species, which rejects or modifies the traditional definition of a species breeding within itself. As a result, science is forced to redefine “species” on the basis of similarity of DNA, but this piece of information has as yet not been communicated to the dictionary editors.

Camels

I have just demonstrated where, halachically, something can be considered two different species, notwithstanding that they breed together. I will now pick an example in which halacha considers two varieties to be the same species, notwithstanding that modern science categorizes them as separate species. The Gemara teaches that the one-humped Arabian camel, the dromedary, and the two-humped Bactrian camel (“Persian camel,” in Chazal’s lexicon) are, without question, one species. (By the way, “Bactria” was an area of ancient Persia; thus, Chazal’s method of distinguishing between the two varieties of camel is identical to modern nomenclature.) The Gemara states, rhetorically: “do you consider them different species, simply because one variety has a longer neck?” (Bava Kama 55a). Obviously, minor differences in physical characteristics are insufficient reason to treat two varieties as halachically different species.

Modern science counts three surviving species of camel, and, based on fossil remains, five extinct species. (How can one tell whether two extinct individuals could breed together or not?) The three existent species are Camelus dromedarius, the one-humped Arabian camel; Camelus bactrianus, the two-humped, domesticated variety; and Camelus ferus, the only remaining variety of wild camel, which lives today in desert areas of northwestern China and southwestern Mongolia. Formally, scientists will tell you that Camelus ferus is considered a separate species on the basis of genetic studies. Informally, they may admit that it is categorized as a separate species in order to facilitate research grants. Research money is more readily available to study “species” that are critically endangered than critically endangered “subspecies.”

Spelt wheat

Thus far, I have demonstrated that, in the animal world, halacha’s category “min,” and modern science’s nomenclature “species” do not necessarily coincide. Now, I will show that this is equally true in the plant world. Modern science does not consider wheat to be a species, but to be a genus, a group of related species, Triticum. Linnaeus categorized wheat into five different species, including spring wheat, winter wheat, Einkorn, and spelt as separate species. However, halacha recognizes spelt as one species and the other varieties as different forms of the species, wheat (Kil’ayim 1:1, see Rash and Rambam). Thus, it is permitted to plant different wheats together, or alongside one another, even in Eretz Yisrael, whereas one may not plant wheat and spelt together or alongside one another, without following the rules established for kil’ayim of two different species.

Citrus

Science treats the various citrus fruits as species of the same genus. Thus, esrogim are Citrus medica; grapefruits, Citrus paradise; lemons, Citrus limonia;and tangerines are a varietyof Citrus nobilis called Citrus nobilis deliciosa. Yet, based on his extensive analysis of halachic sources, the Chazon Ish (Kil’ayim 3:7) considers lemons, esrogim, grapefruits and oranges to be the same species as regards the laws of kil’ayim, which would permit grafting a grapefruit tree onto a lemon stock. (However, in a different place, the Chazon Ish is hesitant about this decision and rules against relying on it [Hilchos Kil’ei Ilan 178:9]. His concern in the latter place is the difference in appearance of the various fruits. He also rules that chushchash, a variety of wild orange, and the oranges that we eat and juice are the same min for halachic purposes [Hilchos Kil’ei Ilan 178:11].) The Chazon Ish notes that his discussion is germane only to the prohibition regarding harkavas ilan, meaning that it is permitted to graft an esrog branch onto the stock of a different citrus for the objective of consuming the produce. However, an esrog grown this way will not be kosher to use as one of the four minim on Sukkos. (See Shu’t Rema #117; #126:2; Shu’t Maharam Alshich #110; Levush, Orach Chayim 649:4; Taz and Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 649; Shu’t Bach #135 et al., all of whom agree that an esrog grafted onto a different species is not kosher for Sukkos use. The Shu’t Panim Me’iros, Volume II #173, and the Saba Kadisha,are among the small minority of authorities who permitted using an esrog grafted onto non-esrog stock for the four minim on Sukkos.) In other words, according to most authorities, an esrog grafted on lemon stock is not kosher for the mitzvah on Sukkos, notwithstanding that the grafter may not have violated any prohibition.

Tangelo

We can now discuss the third of our opening questions: “May I create a tangelo by crossbreeding a tangerine and a grapefruit?” Although the Chazon Ish did not discuss tangerines, it would seem that, according to his comments in Kil’ayim 3:7, this would be permitted, and that, according to his comments to Yoreh Deah, it would not.

Crabapples

At this point, we should examine the last of our opening questions: May I graft an apple branch onto a crabapple trunk?

The regular eating-apple is usually called Malus pumila. There are numerous varieties of crabapples, most of which are also included in the genus Malus and are called names such as Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. Many of these crabapples freely hybridize in the wild with apple cultivars. Thus, we see again that the dictionary definition of a species is no longer accepted by the scientific community.

What is the halacha of grafting apples onto crabapple stocks?

The Mishnah states that apples are kil’ayim with chazrad, some type of wild apple or other fruit bearing some resemblance to, or characteristics, of an apple. Some rishonim believe that chazrad is a variety of wild apple that produced a fruit that was used as feed, but was not considered suitable for human consumption, even after pickling or stewing. However, we do not really have any idea what species or variety chazrad is.

In early nineteenth-century eastern and central Europe, we suddenly find several major halachic authorities debating whether some variety of crabapple or wild apple could be used as the stock on which to graft edible apple trees. The crabapple fruits were usually not considered edible.

The Torah scholar who addressed this question to the author of Shu’t Mishkenos Yaakov considered grafting apples onto crabapple stocks a problem, quoting the Levushei Serad (Chiddushei Dinim #106, also quoted by Piskei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 295:2) that this graft is prohibited as harkavas ilan. The Mishkenos Yaakov (Shu’t Mishkenos Yaakov, Yoreh Deah #69) discusses some of the varieties of crabapple that were commonly used for grafting apples, and permits grafting an apple scion onto the stock of any of the crabapples available in his area. This conclusion is accepted by several other authorities (Beis Efrayim, quoted by the Mishkenos Yaakov; Shu’t Tzemach Tzedek, Yoreh Deah #221; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 295:15). Thus, again, the difference in scientific species identification has nothing to do with the halachicdefinition.

Conclusion

In all six types of kil’ayim mentioned above, the general criterion is to avoid the appearance of different species being intermingled. Concerning this, Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 19:19) writes, “The Great Lawgiver of the world separates the countless numbers of His creations in all their manifold diversity, and assigns to each one of them a separate purpose and a separate form for its purpose.”

In addition, the laws of kil’ayim help us bear in mind how various species obeyed Hashem’s instructions to remain separate during their creation. This reminds the contemplative Jew that if the plants heeded Hashem’s word during the Creation, how much more we are obligated to obey all His instructions.

Toiveling Keilim

Question #1:

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

Question #2:

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

Introduction:

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

  1. Absorbing Concepts

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

  1. Tainted Metal

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

  1. Immersed in Holiness

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

Materials that require tevilah

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

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

Mechiras Chometz and Tevilas Keilim

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

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

Cleavers versus Graters!

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

Grates and Grills

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

What about storage vessels?

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

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

Kelei Sechorah — “Merchandise”

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

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

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

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

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

Some Immersing Details

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

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

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

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

May a child toivel keilim?

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

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

People eating from glass dishes…

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

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

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

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

Other Metals

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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