Shidduchim and Lashon Hara

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

How should one ask and answer shidduch-related questions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO TACHLIS

Do you know whether this is an appropriate shidduch?

Consider the following case:

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

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

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

HIGHLY NEGATIVE FACTS

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

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

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

WHAT NOT TO TELL

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

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

KNOW NOTHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE

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

DOES HE “KNOW HOW TO LEARN?”

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

SELF-DEPRECATING

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

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

HOW TO ASK

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

KABBALAS LOSHON HORA

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

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

 

The Spectrum of Muktzah Utensils

Our parsha opens by mentioning the supremacy of the importance of observing Shabbos. We therefore bring…

The Spectrum of Muktzah Utensils

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the period of the construction of the second Beis HaMikdash, Nechemiah noticed that many Jews were extremely lax in Shabbos observance. In his own words, “In those days, I saw people in Judea operating their winepresses on Shabbos and loading their harvest on donkeys; and also their wine, grapes, and figs and all other burdens; and transporting them to Yerushalayim on Shabbos… the Tyrians would bring fish and other merchandise and sell them to the Jews” (Nechemiah 13:15-16). Nechemiah then describes how he succeeded in closing the city gates the entire Shabbos in order to keep the markets closed.

To strengthen Shabbos observance, Nechemiah established very strict rules concerning which utensils one may move on Shabbos. These rules form the foundation of the halachos of muktzah (Gemara Shabbos 123b). Initially, he prohibited using and moving on Shabbos virtually all utensils, excluding only basic eating appliances such as table knives. We will call this Nechemiah’s “First Takanah.” By prohibiting the moving of items even indoors, he reinforced the strictness of not carrying outdoors on Shabbos (Gemara Shabbos 124b; Raavad, Hilchos Shabbos 24:13). Furthermore, observing the laws of muktzah protects people from mistakenly doing forbidden melacha with these tools. In addition, the laws of muktzah guarantee that Shabbos is qualitatively different from the rest of the week even for someone whose daily life does not involve any manual labor (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 24:12-13).

As the Jews became more careful in their Shabbos observance, Nechemiah gradually relaxed the rules of muktzah, permitting limited use of some utensils on Shabbos. Eventually, Nechemiah established rules whereby most utensils may be moved and used on Shabbos when necessary, whereas certain utensils that one usually would not use on Shabbos remained prohibited (except for unusual circumstances such as danger). When discussing the halachos of muktzah as they apply today, I will refer to Nechemiah’s “Final Takanah.”

Nechemiah’s Final Takanah established four distinct categories of utensils:

  1. Not Muktzah. Items that one may move without any reason whatsoever. This category includes food, sifrei kodesh and, according to many poskim, tableware (Mishnah Berurah 308:23) and clothing (see Shitah La’Ran 123b s.v. Barishonah).
  2. Kli she’me’lachto l’heter, which means a utensil whose primary use is permitted on Shabbos, such as a chair or pillow. One may move this utensil if one needs to use it, if it is in the way, or if it may become damaged. However, one may not move it without any reason (Gemara Shabbos 123b-124a; Shulchan Aruch 308:4).
  3. Kli she’me’lachto l’issur, which means a utensil whose primary use is forbidden on Shabbos, such as a hammer, a saw, or a needle. Items in this category may be moved if they are in the way or if one has a need to use it for a purpose that is permitted on Shabbos (Gemara Shabbos 124a). Under normal circumstances, one may not move it for any other purpose.
  4. Completely Muktzah. These are utensils that one may not move under normal circumstances.

I will now explain the four categories.

  1. NOT MUKTZAH

One may move food and sifrei kodesh without any reason, and, according to many poskim, also tableware and clothing. Why may I move certain items on Shabbos without any purpose, whereas I may move other items only if I have a purpose?

The answer to this halachic question is historical. When Nechemiah declared his original gezeirah prohibiting muktzah, he applied the gezeirah only to utensils, not to food, and also excluded table knives and similar appliances. Thus, Nechemiah never declared food and table knives muktzah, even during the First Takanah. However, a kli she’me’lachto l’heter was included in the First Takanah, and at that time was completely muktzah. Later, Nechemiah relaxed the takanah to permit moving these utensils under the circumstances mentioned above; however, when these circumstances do not apply, the original prohibition declaring them muktzah remains in effect.

As mentioned above, many poskim rule that forks, spoons, dishes, and drinking glasses are also excluded from any halachos of muktzah (Mishnah Berurah 308:23, quoting Shiltei HaGibborim), although there are opinions who consider them keilim she’me’lachtam l’heter (Ben Ish Chai, 2:Mikeitz). The lenient opinion contends that Nechemiah permitted moving tableware just as he permitted moving table knives. The strict opinion contends that Nechemiah excluded only table knives, but no other tableware. They hold that forks, spoons, dishes, and drinking glasses are included in the gezeirah of muktzah as members of category # 2, kli she’me’lachto l’heter. (This means that they may be moved when needed but not otherwise.) I will soon explain the practical difference between these opinions.

  1. KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’HETER

A utensil that is used primarily for a task that is permitted on Shabbos, such as a chair or pillow, is categorized as a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. I may move such a utensil for one of three reasons:

  1. I want to use it on Shabbos. The Gemara (Shabbos 123b) calls this l’tzorech gufo, literally, for its own use.
  2. It is in my way. The Gemara calls this l’tzorech m’komo, literally, to use its place.
  3. I am concerned that it might become damaged. The Gemara refers to this as moving the utensil from the sun to the shade.

However, I may not move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter without any purpose, nor may I use it when I do not really need a utensil. Thus, I may not use a kli she’me’lachto l’heter to help me with a task that I can do it without any tool (Gemara Shabbos 124a; Shaar HaTziyun 308:13).

I mentioned above that the poskim dispute whether we categorize tableware as not muktzah at all, or as kli she’me’lachto l’heter. Ben Ish Chai and others, who contend that it should be considered kli she’me’lachto l’heter, rule that if one placed extra pieces of silverware on the table, one may not move them back into the kitchen simply because they serve no purpose on the table. He points out that this fulfills none of the three conditions mentioned above necessary to move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. (Ben Ish Chai agrees that one may remove the silverware from the table if they are in the way or if one is concerned that they might become damaged.) However, the other opinion contends that silverware is not muktzah at all and may be returned it to its correct storage place even without any other need.

  1. KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’ISSUR

A utensil whose primary use is forbidden on Shabbos, such as a hammer, saw, or needle, may be moved if I need to use it for something permitted on Shabbos or if it is in the way of something I need to do. Thus, I may use a hammer to crack open a coconut on Shabbos or a needle to remove a splinter (Mishnah Shabbos 122b). (When removing the splinter, one must be careful not to intentionally cause bleeding [Magen Avraham 328:32; see also Biur Halacha 308:11]. Also, one may not sterilize the needle on Shabbos [Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 12:1]. ) Similarly, on Shabbos I may remove a hammer or saw that was left on a table, counter, or chair, if I need to put something else there.

However, I may not move a kli she’me’lachto l’issur to save it from becoming broken. When Nechemiah relaxed the takanah that treated kli she’me’lachto l’issur as completely muktzah, he only allowed it to be moved if I need it or its place on Shabbos, but for no other reason.

If I know I will need a kli she’me’lachto l’issur later today, and I am afraid it will get broken or ruined and be unusable by then, I may save it from breaking (Tehillah LeDavid 308:5). This is because moving it now makes it available to me later and thus it is considered l’tzorech gufo.

Once someone picks up a kli she’me’lachto l’issur for a permitted reason, he may put it wherever he chooses (Gemara Shabbos 43a). Some poskim extend this rule further, permitting someone who picked up a kli she’me’lachto l’issur by mistake to place it down wherever he pleases since the item is already in his hand (Magen Avraham 308:7). However, many poskim dispute this, arguing that this lenience applies only when one has permission to pick up the utensil but not when it was picked up in error (Gra, Yoreh Deah 266:12). Thus, someone who picked up a hammer, saw, or needle by mistake may not continue to hold it. Mishnah Berurah (308:13) implies that one may follow the lenient approach when necessary. Therefore, in an extenuating situation, one may hold the kli she’me’lachto l’issur until he finds a convenient place to put it down.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’HETER AND SHE’ME’LACHTO L’ISSUR

After Nechemiah’s later takanos, both kli she’me’lachto l’heter and kli she’me’lachto l’issur have an interesting status: sometimes they are muktzah and sometimes not, depending on why one wants to move them. Even within this in-between category of sometimes-muktzah items, there is a “pecking order” whereby kli she’me’lachto l’heter is less muktzah than kli she’me’lachto l’issur. Several differences in halacha result:

  1. As mentioned above, one may move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter if one is concerned it may become damaged, whereas a kli she’me’lachto l’issur may not be moved.
  2. A kli she’me’lachto l’issur may not be moved when a kli she’me’lachto l’heter is available to do the job (Mishnah Berurah 308:12; Elyah Rabbah 308:32).
  3. One may carry a kli she’me’lachto l’heter early in the day even though he does not anticipate needing it until much later that day (Taz 308:2). This is considered as using the kli. On the other hand, a kli she’me’lachto l’issur may only be picked up when one needs to use it.
  4. Many poskim contend that a kli she’me’lachto l’issur that was intentionally left for Shabbos lying on top of a permitted item conveys the law of a kli she’me’lachto l’issur onto the lower item (Tehillah LeDavid 266:7 & 308:1; Aruch HaShulchan 310:9). The lower item becomes a “bosis l’davar ha’asur,” literally, a base for a prohibited item. Thus according to these poskim, if a hammer was intentionally left on a chair in the backyard for Shabbos, one may not move the chair afterwards if one is concerned that the chair may become damaged, just as one may not move the hammer itself. However, according to the poskim who contend that there is no concept of bosis l’davar ha’asur for a kli she’me’lachto l’issur, one may bring the chair into the house to save it from damage (Pri Megadim, introduction to 308). (We will leave a full discussion of the subject of bosis l’davar ha’asur for a different time.)

However, to the best of my knowledge, no posek contends that a kli she’me’lachto l’heter creates a “bosis l’davar ha’asur.” Thus, if someone intentionally left an ice cream scoop on top of a basket of fruit, the fruit does not have the laws of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter but retains the status of the fruit, which is not muktzah at all.

IS SOMETHING MELACHTO L’HETER OR MELACHTO L’ISSUR?

What is the halacha of an appliance that has two equal usages, one l’heter and the other l’issur? This appliance has the halachic status of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter (Magen Avraham 308:9). Thus, if I use an index card as a place mark although I also might write on it, it is melachto l’heter.

What about a utensil whose primary use is for a prohibited purpose, but its typical use includes a permitted purpose, such as a pot? Its primary use, cooking, renders it a kli she’me’lachto l’issur. However, it also functions as a storage vessel after the food finishes cooking, which is a permitted purpose on Shabbos. What is its status?

A FIFTH CATEGORY OF MUKZTAH UTENSIL

This type of utensil has an interesting status: It changes in the course of Shabbos from being a kli she’me’lachto l’heter to a kli she’me’lachto l’issur and back again. When storing food, it has the status of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. However, when the food is emptied out, it reverts to its primary status and again becomes a kli she’me’lachto l’issur (Rashba, Shabbos 123a s.v. ha disnan, quoted by Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 308:9 and Mishnah Berurah 308:26).

Therefore, while it has food inside it, I may move it if I am concerned it might become damaged. However, once the food has been removed, I may not. I may still move it if I want to use the pot or it is in the way. (Furthermore, I may move a used pot out of the way because it looks disgusting [Gemara Shabbos 124a]. However, this is another topic that we will leave for a different article.)

  1. COMPLETELY MUKTZAH

Most items categorized as muktzah are not utensils and are muktzah because they usually have no Shabbos use. Thus, pieces of scrap wood, dirt, money, ashes and a useless broken item are all muktzah because we do not expect to use them on Shabbos. Even if a use presents itself on Shabbos, or the item is in one’s way, one may not use or move them.

(There are a few instances when one may move such items, such as when someone might get hurt, or when they are very disgusting.)

MUKTZAH MACHMAS CHISARON KIS

Several utensils are completely muktzah. One category includes specialized tools whose primary use is prohibited on Shabbos and are not used for other purposes lest they become damaged. Such utensils are muktzah machmas chisaron kis, muktzah because of financial loss. Since the owner would never use them for any other use, and their primary use is prohibited on Shabbos, he never expects to use them on Shabbos, which renders them muktzah (Tosafos Shabbos 123a s.v. basichi). Thus, a musical instrument, a mohel’s or shocheit’s knife, craftsman’s tools or any other specialty equipment whose owner would not allow it to be used except for its intended purpose is muktzah. Since a shocheit will not use his knife to carve a turkey or slice salami his knife is muktzah. However, an old shechitah knife that its owner no longer uses for shechitah is not muktzah.

MERCHANDISE

Merchandise that one intends to sell is usually muktzah on Shabbos, since one does not intend to use it oneself (Rama 308:1).

A kli that is muktzah machmas chisaron kis that becomes damaged on Shabbos so that it is no longer valuable, remains muktzah machmas chisaron kis for that Shabbos, although for future Shabbosos it will be treated like a kli she’me’lachto l’issur. This is because once a utensil is muktzah at the beginning of Shabbos, it remains muktzah the whole Shabbos (Magen Avraham 308:19; Tosafos Beitzah 2b).

Example: I sell fancy merchandise out of my house that I would never use myself.

On Shabbos, a child opens the package and uses one of the items, so that I could never sell it. Although I will now use the item myself, I must treat it as muktzah until Shabbos is over, since it was muktzah when Shabbos began.

BROKEN UTENSIL

A utensil that broke or tore on Shabbos does not become muktzah unless it has no use whatsoever. This is true even if you immediately threw it into the garbage. However, if it broke before Shabbos and you threw it into the garbage before Shabbos, it becomes muktzah (Gemara Shabbos 124b). Since it was in the garbage when Shabbos arrived, that renders it muktzah.

Thus, a shirt that tore on Shabbos does not become muktzah since you might use it as a rag, even if you threw the torn shirt into the garbage on Shabbos. However, if it tore before Shabbos and you disposed of it before Shabbos, it is muktzah.

TEFILLIN

Where do tefillin fit into the muktzah spectrum? Most people assume that Tefillin are muktzah since we do not wear them on Shabbos. However, the halacha is otherwise. Some poskim rule that Tefillin are kli she’me’lachto l’heter since one may don tefillin on Shabbos as long as one does not intend to fulfill the mitzvah (see Rama 308:4), whereas most poskim treat them as kli she’me’lachto l’issur (Taz, Magen Avraham and others ad loc.). Therefore, if a pair of tefillin are lying in an inconvenient place, one may remove them and then put them wherever is convenient.

Of course, this article cannot serve even as a primer in hilchos muktzah, but merely intends to mention some interesting aspects of the halachos of muktzah.

The entire takanah of muktzah is highly unusual. While observing Shabbos, we constantly need to focus on what we move and how we use it. Thus, hilchos muktzah become more absorbing than the halachos of Shabbos that the Torah itself mandated. Nechemiah instituted these halachos precisely for these reasons. By implementing the laws of muktzah, he accomplished that Shabbos observance is constantly on our minds.

 

Complex Clearings or Removing Muktzah from the Table

loaded tableIt is Mrs. Friedman’s* unmistakable and excitable voice on the phone. “Rabbi,” she begins in her trademark high pitch, “I am married almost twenty years, and have been clearing my Shabbos table the same way all these years: I brush the small items off the tablecloth and pick up the large ones. Last week, a guest, Aviva, politely suggested that I ask my rabbi whether I am doing this correctly. She was taught that she may not remove pistachio shells and used napkins by hand; instead, to place a disposable clear cover on the tablecloth before setting the table, and after clearing the dirty dishes at the end of the meal, to simply roll up the plastic. However, I place my candlesticks in the middle of the Shabbos table; furthermore, I do not consider it Shabbos-dik to have a cover on my exquisite linen tablecloth! Am I indeed doing something wrong for the last twenty years! I was never told this during all my years in Beis Yaakov!”

What would you tell Mrs. Friedman? In order to answer her accurately, we need to understand these halachos well.

In parshas Terumah, the Torah discusses building the Mishkan, which are the same activities that are categorized as melacha activity on Shabbos. As a fence around the Torah, Chazal banned moving items that do not have a use on Shabbos, a law we refer to as muktzah (see Rambam and Raavad, Hil. Shabbos 24:13). For this reason, we may not move on Shabbos items that are not considered utensils, such as stones and pieces of wood. The rules of muktzah are highly complex, and yet at the same time affect each of us every Shabbos. Although we deal with removing items from the table several times every Shabbos, most of us do not realize all the detailed laws that this simple, common activity entails.

HOW, WHAT, AND WHEN

Certain specific questions about the laws of muktzah directly influence how one may clear the table.

I. HOW

How does one remove a muktzah item without violating the laws of Shabbos?

II. WHAT

Which items commonly left on a table are muktzah?

III. WHEN

When may I move an item, notwithstanding that it is muktzah?

Answering these three questions will explain what Aviva was taught and provide Mrs. Friedman with some practical, level-headed advice to keep her table Shabbos-dik.

I. HOW

Since it is likely that the remnants of a meal contain muktzah, how does one remove them on Shabbos? The Mishnah (Shabbos 143a) permits tilting the tabletop, thereby tumbling the muktzah to the floor. However, this leads us to question: If one may not move a muktzah item, how may I tilt the tabletop? This is also moving muktzah!

INDIRECT CARRYING – TILTUL MIN HATZAD

The answer is that (under certain circumstances) Chazal permitted lifting a permitted item that indirectly moves something muktzah.

In addition to tilting the tabletop, the Shulchan Aruch (308:27) suggests two other options to clear the table, both of which permit carrying the entire tabletop to a place where one can then tilt off the muktzah:

  1. If there is bread on the table in addition to something muktzah, the muktzah item is treated as bateil, nullified, to the piece of bread. For this reason, one may now carry the entire table or tabletop to a place where it is convenient to drop off the muktzah. One may even place bread on the table expressly for this purpose (Rosh, as explained by Magen Avraham 308:51).

Based on the above, if nutshells, which are muktzah, ended up on a plate during Shabbos, one may place some bread on the plate and then remove it from the table. Upon arrival in the kitchen, one may tilt the muktzah items into the garbage can. Bear in mind, that when one empties the muktzah items into a garbage can, one can no longer move the garbage can itself. (In all likelihood, the garbage can is already muktzah because of other items it contains. My observation is that people are sometimes not meticulous to treat their household garbage cans as muktzah. One should always leave the garbage can in place. Only under certain unusual circumstances, beyond the scope of this article, may one remove the garbage.)

  1. Even if there is no bread on the tabletop or plate, the Shulchan Aruch permits moving them to remove muktzah if one needs to use the area. Since this is often the situation, one usually does not need to place bread on the table or plate to remove the muktzah.

(All cases in this article assume that both the table and the plates do not qualify as a basis ledavar he’asur, meaning that it was not intended to be a base for the muktzah [see Tosafos, Beitzah 2a s.v. Uveis; Magen Avraham 308:50]. An item that is a basis ledavar he’asur, intended to be a base for a muktzah item, becomes muktzah and cannot be moved on Shabbos, even if somehow the muktzah item was removed. Detailing the laws of basis ledavar he’asur is beyond the scope of this article.)

DISPOSABLES TO THE RESCUE!

Similarly, someone who places a disposable plastic cover atop the tablecloth may remove the plastic cover and dispose of it even though it is covered with muktzah, provided there is some bread on the plastic cover. As we explained, even if there is no bread on the table, one may remove the plastic if one needs to use the table on Shabbos and cannot do so with the muktzah items still there.

AVIVA’S PSAK

Based on the above halachic discussion, Aviva was taught that the easiest way to clear the table without concern about moving muktzah is to remove a plastic table cover with everything on it. In this method, any potential muktzah is being carried indirectly.

For those who do not like placing plastic covers over their tablecloths, one could follow the same rule by removing the plates with the muktzah items on them, and then removing the tablecloth. Alternatively, one could simply lift the entire tablecloth to a different area and shake it out — then return it to the table.

However, what may one do to clear the table if one leaves the candlesticks on the table, thus making it impossible to remove the tablecloth, and one does not cover the tablecloth with a plastic?

CLEARING MRS. FRIEDMAN’S TABLE

Certainly, Mrs. Friedman will not be satisfied with any of the above methods of clearing her table. Although her son Yanky may like the Mishnah’s method of tilting the tabletop, or the Shulchan Aruch’s suggestion of lifting the entire table, I would elect to be absent should he tilt her table and dump her candlesticks along with the leftovers onto the carpet. Therefore, to avoid receiving her phone call should Yanky clear the table this way, we should explore other options how to do so.

My best advice in this situation is to place the muktzah shells, pits, and napkins directly onto a plate rather than on the tablecloth. Afterwards, one may remove the plate with the muktzah on it. Following the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, if one places some bread on the plate, one may remove the plate even without knowing that he has any need to use that particular part of the table. If one knows that he will need that part of the table later on Shabbos, then one may remove the plate even without any bread on it.

However, what does one do if someone errantly placed their muktzah item directly on Mrs. Friedman’s gorgeous linen cloth, and there is no practical way to remove the tablecloth from the table?

In this situation, may one remove the muktzah items by picking them up or brushing them off the tablecloth? This is what Mrs. Friedman was doing that attracted Aviva’s attention.

Let us first analyze if indeed Mrs. Friedman’s pristine post-dinner table contains any items that are muktzah. This takes us back to our second original question:

II. WHAT

Which items commonly left on a table are muktzah?

BONES AND SHELLS

When humans consume food, we often leave behind bones, shells and pits that we consider inedible, although other creatures consider them a delicious dinner. Are these leftovers considered useless and therefore muktzah, or are they functional, permitting one to move them?

Indeed, the Mishnah discusses whether bones and shells are muktzah, ruling that food remnants that animals do not eat are muktzah, whereas those that they will eat are not (Tosafos, Shabbos 143a s.v. Atzamos).

However, this definition requires refinement since one can find some creature that will consume virtually every organic substance. Does this mean that no biodegradable substances are muktzah? The answer is that only substances eaten by normally available animals, birds, and fish are not muktzah.

What type of animal food is included?

Items eaten by an animal or bird that someone in your neighborhood may own are not muktzah. Therefore, provisions eaten by dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, parakeets, or even household aquarium fish are not muktzah since it is not unusual to find these as pets. For this reason, bones that dogs may lick are not muktzah (see Shulchan Aruch 308:27). Similarly, crumbs are not muktzah, even though no one will be eating them. Halachically, these are still considered feed since one could leave them for animals.

ZOO ANIMALS

On the other hand, items that are eaten only by animals not commonly owned by people in your area are muktzah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 308:29). Specifically, the Gemara concludes that items considered food only by a raven, an ostrich, or an elephant are muktzah since it is uncommon to find these as pets in someone’s house. Items eaten only by these types of creatures are muktzah unless one owns them. Therefore, a zoo may consider the feed common for any animal it keeps as non-muktzah, whereas in a private home, nutshells, bones, pits, and peels not suitable to feed locally available animals are muktzah unless there is some food still attached to them (Mishnah Berurah 308:114).

Potentially, other muktzah items could easily end up on a table, particularly if there are young children around who have a knack of placing crayons and similar items on the table. Furthermore, some authorities consider used napkins and tissues to be muktzah since no one utilizes them anymore.

MAY ONE REMOVE MUKTZAH?

We therefore see that one could easily find muktzah items on the table after a meal. How does one remove these items?

We noted above, that one may remove muktzah items if they are placed on a non-muktzah surface, particularly if some bread is placed on the same surface. Therefore, after licking clean a bone or pit one should place it onto a plate or other item that will later be removed. When shelling pistachios or other nuts, one should be careful to place the shells on a plate, and one should follow the same approach when one finishes using a tissue or napkin.

But what do you do with the shells that missed the plate? One now has muktzah items on Mrs. Friedman’s deluxe linen cloth!

This takes us to our third original question:

III. WHEN

When may I move an item by hand, notwithstanding that it is muktzah? Let us explore a possibility.

GRAF SHEL RE’I

The halacha is that a malodorous or otherwise disgusting but muktzah item that ends up in a residential place may be removed. For example, after changing a baby, one may remove the soiled Pamper notwithstanding that it is now muktzah. This halacha is called removing a graf shel re’i, a chamber pot, which one may remove from a residential place where its presence disgusts people.

Why may one remove a graf shel re’i? Chazal permitted the removal of a graf shel re’i, even when it is muktzah, because of their concern for kavod habriyos, human dignity (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 308:58; Aruch HaShulchan 308:60). This means, that although moving muktzah is an ancient and sacred prohibition, Chazal permitted moving a muktzah item that affects one’s sense of self-dignity if the malodorous item is located in a place where one lives.

However, this halacha only permits the minimum necessary to restore one’s self dignity. For this reason, one usually may not create a kavod habriyus situation in order to facilitate removing muktzah. For example, if the unpleasant muktzah item is located in a part of the house that one does not normally use, one cannot decide to use that area on Shabbos to be able to remove the muktzah. (There is an exception to this rule that is beyond the scope of this article.) Similarly, one may not have a Jew move a graf shel re’i when a gentile could move it (Aruch HaShulchan 308:60).

The question we need to resolve is whether shells and dirty napkins are included under the heading of graf shel re’i. Perhaps one may remove only items far more disgusting, such as vomit and human soil (see Shulchan Aruch 308:34).

Furthermore, even though the lenience of graf shel re’i may not exist for bones, many authorities permit brushing them away with an implement (Taz, 308:18; however, the Chazon Ish 47:14 prohibits.)

Indeed, we find three opinions among the Rishonim regarding this subject. The Raavad prohibited moving muktzah bones and shells even if they are in a residential area, even by sweeping them and certainly by picking them up. He contends that only truly repulsive items are muktzah, and he further maintains that whereas removing a plate or cloth containing muktzah is considered moving muktzah indirectly, pushing muktzah with an implement is considered moving it directly.

On the other hand, the Rashba permitted sweeping away muktzah bones as an extension of the lenience of graf shel re’i (Ran, end of Tenth Chapter of Shabbos). The Ramban allowed sweeping these bones with a broom or other utensil because he considers it removing muktzah in an indirect way, but did not consider them to be a graf shel re’i.

CONCLUSION

The Shulchan Aruch and the Rama (337:2) both imply that one may remove shells and bones even when they are muktzah. The later authorities dispute whether they permitted sweeping muktzah only because this is removing it indirectly (see Shaar HaTziyun 337:7) or because we treat them as a graf shel re’i and permit removing them even by hand (Magen Avraham 337:4; Gra”z 337:2). This last dispute affects Mrs. Friedman’s table tremendously. The rav who advised Aviva suggested an approach that avoids all these questions: By lifting up the plastic tablecloth with all the rubbish on it, one avoids the entire question, since everyone rules that this is permitted. Whether Mrs. Friedman must push the muktzah items off the table with a knife or napkin or whether she may pick up some of the objectionable items by hand depends on the last dispute quoted. However, it is still preferable that as the muktzah items are created, one should place them directly on a plate.

Observing the halachos of muktzah properly forces us to constantly focus on what we move and how we use it. Thereby, these laws imbue our whole Shabbos observance with greater focus and meaning!

*all names have been changed

 

The Lost Gift: Parashas Mishpatim and Shomrim

In this parshas Mishpatim, the Torah discuss the responsibility that a shomer assumes for someone else’s property. Does a shomer always assume this much responsibility? Stay tuned and find out!

gift boxWhile learning in my study one day, I was greeted by a knock at the door. I opened the door to find two women, Rivkah and Leah, standing in the doorway.

“Rabbi,” Rivka began somewhat apprehensively, “We have a shaylah that we need to ask you. I was supposed to bring a present to Lakewood for Leah’s daughter, but, somehow, it got along the way. I feel responsible. Leah feels that I am not responsible and I should not feel any obligation to compensate her daughter, but I feel that I should.”

“If anyone is responsible it is I,” replied Leah. “I keep insisting that Rivka should not pay, and she keeps insisting that she should. We decided that we would refer this to the Rav to decide.”

The case turned out to be a very interesting halachic shaylah.

A family member bought a very expensive wedding gift for Leah’s recently married daughter, who now lives in Lakewood. Leah heard that Rivka’s husband was driving to Lakewood, so she called to ask if he could bring the gift with him. Rivka suggested that Leah drop by and put the gift in the trunk of the car, so that they wouldn’t misplace it.

Upon reaching Lakewood, Leah’s daughter arrives to pick up the package. Rivka’s husband checks the trunk of the car, but the gift is not there!! He calls Rivka, who in turn calls Leah, who says that she definitely placed the gift in the trunk. The gift seems to have inexplicably disappeared!

Who, if anyone, is responsible to replace the gift?

I asked for some time to think about the shaylah. In the interim, I needed to address some pertinent questions, which provides an opportunity to review the relevant halachos.

There are several halachic areas we need to clarify:

  1. To what extent are you responsible for replacing an item that you were watching without remuneration?
  2. If you permit someone to place an item in your house or car, does that mean that you are now responsible if the item is damaged, lost or stolen?
  3. If you agree to transport an item as a favor, is there an assumption of responsibility, and if so, to what extent?

WHAT IS A SHOMER CHINAM AND TO WHAT EXTENT IS HE RESPONSIBLE?

Someone who assumes responsibility to take care of an item, but receives no benefit for doing so, is called a shomer chinam. He is responsible if the item becomes damaged, stolen, or lost because of his negligence, but not if he took proper care of the item.

EXAMPLE: Binyomin entrusted money to a shomer for safekeeping. When he came to collect his money, the shomer replied that he does not remember where he put it. Rava ruled that not knowing where you put something is negligent and the shomer must pay (Bava Metzia 42a).

WHAT IF HE DID NOT EXPRESSLY ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY?

A shomer may specify that he assumes no responsibility for an item (Mishnah, Bava Metzia 94a). Furthermore, if he clearly did not assume responsibility, he is also not obligated to pay.

EXAMPLE: While fleeing from the Napoleonic wars, Naftali buried valuables in a pit in his backyard, and offered Asher to hide his valuables there, too. The two of them fled to a safer area, hoping to return one day to unearth their valuables. Fortunately, the war ended, and they were able to return. Naftali was eager to unearth the valuables and give Asher back his money, but Asher was busy taking care of other matters. Naftali sent Asher a message that he was unearthing the valuables, but Asher did not arrive immediately. By the time Asher arrived, his valuables had disappeared. Does Naftali bear responsibility?

Naftali and Asher addressed the question to Rav Yaakov of Lisa, the author of Nesivos Hamishpat (291:2). The rav ruled that Naftali is not obligated to pay any damages, since he never assumed any responsibility for Asher’s valuables but merely made his hiding place available.

Thus, we have established that if a shomer assumes responsibility, he will have to pay for damage caused by his negligence, but if he does not assume responsibility, he does not have to pay.

However, our case is somewhat different from the case of the Nesivos. In his case, Asher knows that Naftali will not be around to supervise his property. In our case, Leah had accepted the gift on behalf of her daughter and Rivka suggested that it be placed in her car. Does that make Rivka responsible to replace it if it is lost?

Or, as we phrased our second question above: If you permit someone to place an item in your house or car, does that mean that you are now responsible if the item gets damaged, lost or stolen?

The Gemara raises the following shaylah which affects our question:

Daniel asked Shlomo if he could leave his sheep and some equipment in Shlomo’s yard. Subsequently, Shlomo’s dog, Fido, bit Daniel’s sheep; the next day, someone stole the equipment. Assuming that Shlomo was negligent, must he pay for the damages?

The question is whether Shlomo ever assumed responsibility for Daniel’s property. If he permitted Daniel to place the sheep and the equipment in his yard, does that mean that he assumed responsibility for this property? The Mishnah (Bava Kamma 47a) quotes a dispute between Rebbe and the Chachomim as to whether we assume that Shlomo took responsibility.

HOW DO WE PASKIN?

There are three opinions:

  1. Some rule that Shlomo is responsible for the damage. They contend that when someone grants permission to place items on his property, he assumes responsibility to look out for the items.
  2. Others contend that Shlomo is not responsible for the stolen equipment, but he is responsible for Fido biting the sheep (Shach 291:9). Permitting someone to place items on his property doesn’t mean that he assumes responsibility. However, Shlomo is liable if his animal caused damage to property that he allowed onto his premises.
  3. Shlomo does not need to pay at all since he never accepted responsibility (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 291:3). (According to this opinion, even though Shlomo’s dog bit Daniel’s sheep, Shlomo is not responsible for damage done by his own animal on his own property.)

The Shulchan Aruch rules like the third opinion that Shlomo is not responsible, although other poskim disagree. Thus, we see that although someone permits you to put something in his house or car, you cannot assume that this means he is taking responsibility for it. Thus, placing the gift in Rivka’s car does not, necessarily, mean that either Rivka or her husband is responsible for the gift.

However, there is a difference between Leah’s gift and Daniel’s sheep, other than the fact that one of them bleats. I am going to use another din Torah to demonstrate the difference between the two.

While Levi was packing his donkey to travel to the next city, Yehuda asked if he could send his shoes along. Levi responded, “You can put them on top of the donkey.” Yehuda complied, and Levi rode off without tying the shoes adequately to the donkey. Subsequently, when the shoes were lost, Levi claimed that he never assumed any responsibility for Yehuda’s shoes.

Is Levi responsible to pay Yehuda for his shoes? After all, he never told Yehuda that he was assuming responsibility; he simply allowed Yehuda to place his shoes on the donkey.

The Rosh (quoted by Tur Choshen Mishpat Chapter 291) ruled that Levi is indeed responsible, even though he never told Yehuda that he was assuming responsibility.

Why are Yehuda’s shoes different from Daniel’s sheep, where we assumed that Shlomo took no responsibility? The difference is that when Levi transports the shoes with him, Yehuda will no longer be able to watch them. Under these circumstances, we assume that Levi accepted responsibility, unless he specifically stated at the time that he did not. However, when Daniel puts his sheep into Shlomo’s yard, there is no reason why Daniel cannot continue to be responsible to take care of his sheep. Thus, there is nothing in Shlomo’s action that implies that he is assuming responsibility.

Based on the above analysis, it would seem that Rivka is indeed responsible since she made Leah the offer of placing the gift in her car. This implies that Rivka assumed responsibility.

However, Rivka’s gift is different from Yehuda’s shoes for two reasons:

  1. Rivka’s gift was not put into a place that requires any type of supervision. The locked trunk of a car is a secure place to leave items. Thus, it is less certain that we can assume that Rivka accepted responsibility.
  2. More importantly, Rivka told Leah to put the gift in the car, but also told her that her husband, not she, was going to Lakewood. Thus, Rivka certainly was not assuming responsibility for bringing the gift to Lakewood. We also cannot say that her husband assumed responsibility, when he never agreed expressly to take the package. Thus, it would seem that neither Rivka nor her husband is responsible. However, if her husband agreed to take the package, he would be responsible if, indeed, he had been negligent. Since we do not know where the package went, we would probably assume that the package disappeared because of some negligence on his part.

DOES THIS MEAN THAT LEAH IS RESPONSIBLE TO PAY HER DAUGHTER FOR THE GIFT?

Indeed it might. When Leah accepted the gift on her daughter’s behalf, she assumed responsibility as a shomer chinam. We now have a new shaylah: Did she discharge this responsibility when she placed the gift in Rivka’s car for the trip to Lakewood?

The Gemara records an interesting parallel to this case.

At the time of the Gemara, houses were not particularly secure places to leave valuables. For this reason, the proper place to store money and non-perishable valuables was to bury them in the ground. A shomer chinam who received money but did not bury the money would be ruled negligent, if the money was subsequently stolen (Bava Metzia 42a).

The Gemara mentions a case when this rule was not applied:

Someone entrusted money to a shomer who gave it to his mother to put away. His mother assumed that it was her son’s own money, not money that he was safekeeping for someone else, and therefore placed it in his wallet rather than burying it. Subsequently, the money was stolen and all three of them ended up appearing before Rava to paskin the shaylah.

Rava analyzed the case as follows: The shomer is entitled to say that he has a right to give something entrusted to him to a different member of his family for safekeeping. Furthermore, there is no claim against him for not telling his mother that the money was not his, because she will take better care of it assuming that it was his. Therefore, the shomer did not act negligently. The mother also did not act negligently – based on the information she had, she acted responsibly. Thus, neither one of them is obligated to pay (Bava Metzia 42b).

The principles of this last Gemara can be applied to our case. Neither Leah, nor Rivka, nor Rivka’s husband acted negligently in our case. Leah gave the gift to someone in a responsible way to get it to Lakewood. We have already pointed out that neither Rivka nor her husband ever assumed responsibility for the gift. Furthermore, neither one of them acted irresponsibly. Thus, it seems to me that none of the parties involved is halachically obligated to make restitution.

There is actually a slight additional angle to this story. Leah is, technically, obligated in an oath (a shevua) to her own daughter to verify that she indeed placed the gift in the car. However, since it is unlikely that Leah’s daughter will demand an oath from her, she is not obligated to pay.

Needless to say, Leah will apologize to her daughter even if she has no technical responsibility, and will probably offer her daughter a replacement gift. Hopefully her daughter will accept the loss of a gift as a minor mishap, and put it out of her mind.

In general, we should be careful when we assume responsibility for items belonging to others, to take good care of them and not leave them around irresponsibly or near young children. We should pray to be successful messengers when entrusted with other people’s property.

 

Who Is the True Redeemer?

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

Who is the True Redeemer?

Ìàøóëå 1 ìåñÿöQuestion #1: Deadbeat dad

Mrs. Gerusha* calls me with the following question:

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

Question #2: Who’s on first?

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

Question #3: Late bloomer

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

Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May she?

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

Pidyon haben vs. bris

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

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

May they redeem?

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

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

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

Early responsum

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

The Toledo contention

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

Rashba’s ruling

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

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

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

Coercion

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

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

Redeeming yourself

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

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

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

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

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

Redeeming oneself

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to redeem himself?

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

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

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

Combining semachos

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

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

Pidyon haben on Chol Hamoed

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

What’s Being Served for Haftarah This Week?

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Question #1: What Haftarah does Klal Yisrael read on Shabbos Parshas Shemos?

Question #2: Why do we read this Haftarah?

Question #3: What unusual fact about this week’s Haftarah inspired me to discuss this topic this week?

Before providing the clues to answering these questions; let’s first understand some background.

The Word Haftarah

I remember, as a child, assuming that the word Haftarah was pronounced half-Torah, because it was always much shorter than the Torah reading. Unfortunately, I occasionally hear adults mispronounce the word this way, too.

Although there are several interpretations of the word Haftarah, it is usually understood to mean completing, as in “completing the reading of the Torah” (Levush, Orach Chayim 284:1).

What Should We Read?

Chazal established specific Haftaros for some Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim (Megillah 29b- 31b). During weeks when no specific Haftarah was instituted, we should recite a Haftarah appropriate to the parsha.

Sometimes, the Haftarah relates not to the parsha, but to the season, such as during the Three Weeks and on the seven consecutive Shabbosos following Tisha B’Av. We also find that some places had a custom on a Shabbos aufruf to read the Haftarah from Yeshayahu that concludes, “And as a chosson rejoices with his kallah, so shall Hashem rejoice with you” (Terumas Hadeshen #20).

On most Shabbosos, when there was no requirement to read a specific section of Navi, each community would choose a selection of Navi reminiscent of the parsha. Indeed, if one looks at old Chumashim and books of community minhagim, one finds many variant practices. In addition, several sefarim mention different customs, and the Encyclopedia Talmudis provides a very extensive listing. Particularly, Sephardic and Ashkenazic practices often vary from one another, especially regarding minor differences, such as exactly where to begin or end the Haftarah, or whether to skip certain verses.

However, our Chumashim usually mention only the most common selections of Navi that have become generally accepted, only mentioning the differences between Sefardic, Ashkenazic and occasionally Italian practices.

Every Three Years

Today, the universal practice is to complete the entire Torah reading every year. However, in the times of the Gemara and for many centuries afterward, some communities read much smaller sections of the Torah every week and completed the Torah reading only every three years. Those communities also divided the Haftarah into three-year cycles by reciting a Haftarah that corresponded to their shorter readings. I have seen photographs of old manuscript Haftarah books based on the three-year system, where each sub-parsha has the name of the first words of the week’s portion. In the selection I saw, Parshas Vaeschanan was divided into three parts named Parshas Vaeschanan, Parshas Az Yavdil Moshe, and Parshas Shema Yisroel.

How is Parshas Shemos Unique?

Now is the time to address the questions I raised above:

Which Haftarah does Klal Yisrael read this Shabbos?

Why do we read this Haftarah?

What unusual fact about this week’s Haftarah inspired me to discuss this topic this week?

There are many different customs regarding which Haftarah to read. On no other Shabbos am I aware of as many different customs as this Shabbos. I am aware of five completely different choices for the Haftarah reading for Parshas Shemos! On many weeks, Ashkenazim and Sefardim either begin or end in different places, or add or skip certain pesukim, but the basic reading is the same. The five selections I saw mentioned for this week’s Haftarah are all from Neviim Acharonim, but they are five completely different readings. The Abudraham, who lists different customs regarding what to read on each week’s Haftarah, cites three alternate haftaros for Parshas Shemos, each from a different one of the three major seforim of Nevi’im Acharonim: Yeshayahu, Yirmiyohu and Yechezkel. And yet, the standard Haftarah read in Ashkenazi communities for this Shabbos is not any of the three that Avudraham quotes, which is highly unusual.

What do Ashkenazim read?

To the best of my knowledge, all Ashkenazic communities nowadays read Haba’im Yashreish Yaakov, from the Book of Yeshayahu (27:6 – 28:23). There does not seem to be any obvious reason to associate this passage from Yeshayahu with parshas Shemos. Why do we read this Haftarah? Rashi, in his commentary to the first words of the Haftarah, notes that the first words mentioned by Yeshayahu refer to the Bnei Yisroel going down to Mitzrayim, similar to the first words of this week’s Torah reading. Thus, although the rest of the Haftarah has little connection to the parsha, the beginning allusion was sufficient to choose this particular Haftarah for this week.

What do Sephardim and Edot Hamizrah read?

Some oriental communities, particularly those originating from parts of Yemen or Iraq, read from Yechezkel: Ben Adom Hoda es Yerushalayim (Yechezkel 16:1- 14), which is one of the three selections mentioned by Abudraham. This portion is also mentioned by the Rambam as the Haftarah for this week, which is probably the source for the Yemenite communities. Reading these words of Yechezkel, one can readily see why this was chosen for this week’s Haftarah. It describes the bleak origins of the Jewish people. Some of its verses have found their way into the Hagadah that is recited on Pesach-night, for the same reason.

However, most Sephardic communities read the beginning of the book of Yirmiyohu, Divrei Yirmiyohu. This Haftarah is very familiar to Ashkenazim because it is read on the first of the Three Weeks, usually parshas Pinchas, but occasionally on Parshas Matos.

Since this Haftarah discusses the impending attack of the Babylonians on Israel, it seems extremely appropriate to the Three Weeks; but why do Sephardim read it on parshas Shemos? Some note that several analogies between Moshe and Yirmiyohu surface in the parsha and Haftarah. Both Yirmiyahu and Moshe are beginning their careers as prophets, reluctantly. Yirmiyahu says that he is unable to speak, as he is little more than a child, and Moshe claims that he cannot speak due to physical impediment.

However, I must admit that I am baffled why it has become more commonly accepted to read either of these two haftaros: Habaim Yashreish Yaakov or Divrei Yirmiyohu, rather than Yechezkel Chapter 20, whose relationship to our parsha is more obvious. This passage mentions that Hashem made Himself known to the Jewish people in Mitzrayim, and that the Jews should not assimilate and follow Egyptian idolatrous practices. Indeed, this Haftarah was read by many Yemenite communities, yet it failed to gain acceptance in most other communities, either Ashkenazi or Sephardi, and furthermore, is not one of the three haftaros mentioned for this parsha by the Avudraham. (I refer our readers to Rav Mendel Hirsch’s commentary on the haftaros, where he suggests a connection between our Haftarah and parshas Shemos.)

Thus, I find two very surprising factors about the Haftarah we read this week.

  1. There are, or probably more accurately now, were at least five different accepted customs followed in choosing the Haftarah for this week, more than I am aware of for any other Shabbos.
  2. The ones standardly read in accordance with most Ashkenazi or Sephardi customs are the least obvious choices – meaning they are choices where we must strain to understand why they were chosen rather than other, more obvious candidates.

Conclusion:

We thus see that recital of the weekly Haftarah is an ancient custom and should be treated with respect. We may wonder why certain passages were chosen to be read on any given week; and at times, cannot even say that these were the most appropriate choices. In any event, we should pay attention to the Haftarah reading. We can gain much from understanding the inspiring messages that the navi is teaching.

 

Rav Yehudah Hachassid and His Shidduchin II

In a previous article, we discussed the writings of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who prohibited or advised against many potential marriages that are otherwise perfectly acceptable according to halachah. But first some background on the chassidei Ashkenaz.

Who was Rav Shmuel Hachassid?

Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s father, known as Rav Shmuel Hachassid, was a very righteous individual who was a great mekubal, one of the baalei Tosafos, and a highly respected leader of twelfth-century Ashkenazic Jewry. Because of his great levels of righteousness, Rav Shmuel Hachassid was also sometimes called Rav Shmuel Hakadosh or Rav Shmuel Hanavi.

Rav Shmuel Hachassid was born in Speyer, one of the bastions of Torah that then existed on the banks of the Rhine River. (People whose family name is Shapiro and its various pronunciations and spellings are probably descended from someone who lived in Speyer; you might be progeny of either Rav Shmuel or Rav Yehudah Hachassid.) Rav Shmuel was the rabbinic leader of the community in Speyer and the head of a yeshivah. He was also the repository of much kabbalistic knowledge, both oral and written, that had been handed down from the generations of great Ashkenazic leaders before him, including many great baalei kabbalah. He became the recognized leader of a scholarly movement whose members were called the Chassidei Ashkenaz, individuals who lived their lives in an other-worldly existence, devoted exclusively to Torah and growth in yiras shamayim. The lengthy Shir Hayichud, recited in many congregations in its entirety after davening on Kol Nidrei evening, is attributed to Rav Shmuel Hachassid.

One of Rav Shmuel’s sons was Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who was born in approximately 4910 (1150). Rav Yehudah Hachassid is also one of the baalei Tosafos, and is quoted several times in the Tosafos printed in the margins of our Gemara (for example, Tosafos, Bava Metzia 5b, s.v. Dechashid; Kesuvos 18b, s.v. Uvekulei). Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s students included a number of famous rishonim who are themselves baalei Tosafos, such as Rav Yitzchok Or Zarua, Rav Elazar ben Rav Yehudah (the Rokeach), Rav Moshe of Coucy (the Semag), and Rav Baruch ben Rav Yitzchok (the Sefer Haterumah).

Rav Yehudah Hachassid also continued his father’s role as the head of the Chassidei Ashkenaz. He followed what we would consider an ascetic relationship to this world. For example, he fasted all day the entire week, eating only in the evenings. His disciple, the Or Zarua, records that Rav Yehudah Hachassid fasted two days Yom Kippur (Hilchos Yom Kippur, end of #281).

Rav Yehudah Hachassid also authored works on kabbalah and is commonly attributed as the author of the poem Anim Zemiros, sung in many shullen at the end of Shabbos davening. He was also the source of works that can be easily read by the layman, two of which, the Sefer Chassidim and the Tzava’as [the ethical will of] Rav Yehudah Hachassid, are the subjects of today’s article. The Sefer Chassidim includes halacha, minhag, mussar, and commentary on tefillah. This work is mentioned numerous times by the later halachic authorities, as are many of the instructions in his tzava’ah. As we will soon discuss, there is some question as to whether he actually wrote the tzava’ah or whether he transmitted its content orally and it was recorded by his children or disciples. Rav Yehudah Hachassid graduated to olam haba on Taanis Esther, 4977 (1217), in Regensburg, Germany.

The tzava’ah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid

In his ethical will, Rav Yehudah Hachassid prohibits and/or advises against a vast array of practices for which he is the earliest, and sometimes the only, halachic source. Why did Rav Yehudah Hachassid prohibit these actions? Although we are not certain, because he offered no explanation, many later authorities assume that, in most instances, these were practices that Rav Yehudah Hachassid realized are dangerous because of kabbalistic reasons. Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, author of Shulchan Aruch Harav and Tanya) is quoted as having said that to understand one of Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s statements in his tzava’ah would require a work the size of the Shelah, a classic of halachah, kabbalah and musar that is hundreds of pages long.

Reasons for the injunctions

Although the considerations behind Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s rulings have been lost to us, several Acharonim proposed various reasons for one of his rulings, that a chosson and his father-in-law or a kallah and her mother-in-law should not share the same given name:

1) Some Acharonim maintain that the prohibitions are in order to avoid ayin hara. Due to the novelty of having the same name as an in-law, people would be more apt to talk about such a shidduch and cause an ayin hara (Chida, Peirush Lesefer Chassidim #477; Heishiv Moshe #19; Pri Hasadeh, vol. I, #69).

2) Others contend that if the kallah has the same name as the chosson’s mother, the chosson will be unable to fulfill the mitzvah of kibbud eim when his mother dies, since he will not be able to name a child after her (Maharil #17).

3) Another explanation is that it will cause a lack of respect towards the parents. If the chosson’s name is the same as the kallah’s father, she will inevitably use her husband’s name in her father’s presence (Even Haroshah #31).

The responsum of the Noda Biyehudah

In my earlier article, I mentioned the responsum of the Noda Biyehudah (Shu’t Even Ha’ezer II #79), who explains that the shidduchin that Rav Yehudah Hachassid discouraged are concerns only for his descendants. The Noda Biyehudah also holds that Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s concerns apply only to birth names or names given to sons at their bris, but do not apply to any name changes that take place afterwards. And most importantly, the Noda Biyehudah feels that it is more important to marry off one’s daughter to a talmid chacham than to be concerned about names.

Double whammy

The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Even Ha’ezer, end of #116) was asked by Rav Shmuel, the av beis din of Balkan, concerning a highly scholarly and qualified bachur whose first name was the same as the father of the girl that was suggested, and whose mother carried the same name as the girl. The Chasam Sofer permitted this shidduch, providing two reasons not cited by the Noda Biyehudah:

The Gemara (Pesachim 110b) explains that sheidim, evil spirits, are concerned only about people who are afraid of them, but that someone not troubled by them will suffer no harm. The Chasam Sofer reasons that the prohibitions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid apply only to people who are concerned about them.

Other authorities accept this conclusion of the Chasam Sofer. For example, after providing an extensive discussion on all the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, the Sedei Chemed (Volume 7, page 20) notes that when he assumed his position as the rav of the Crimea, he discovered that the local populace did not observe any of the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid. The Sedei Chemed, who himself was concerned about all of these rules, writes that he thought about mentioning these matters to his community. He subsequently decided against it, reasoning that no harm will come to someone who is not apprehensive.

Following this same approach, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that such a shidduch should be prevented only if the couple getting married is concerned that one of them shares a name with his or her future parent-in-law. However, if the marrying couple is not disturbed about violating the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, even if the parents are concerned, one may proceed with the marriage, — the concern of a parent will not bring harm upon the couple (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 1:4). Similarly, I found a different authority who rules that when the couple makes the shidduch themselves, there is no concern for the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid (Sedei Chemed Volume 7, page 21, quoting Heishiv Moshe).

It is reported that someone asked the Chazon Ish regarding a shidduch where the prospective kallah had the same name as the mother of the suggested young man. The Chazon Ish asked the prospective chosson whether he was apprehensive about this. When he responded that he was not at all concerned, the Chazon Ish told him that he could proceed (Pe’er Hador, vol. IV, pg. 90).

It is interesting to note that, in another instance, someone asked the Chazon Ish about a situation where the prospective chosson had the same name as the prospective kallah’s father. The Chazon Ish ruled that as long as they do not live in the same city, they could go through with the shidduch. He explained that the whole reason beyond these rulings of Rav Yehuda Hachassid is ayin hara – people should not say “Here are the two Yankels.” However, if they live in different cities, people will not talk about them (Ma’aseh Ish pg. 215).

Others, however, view Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s prohibition differently. For example, some question whether a man whose mother is deceased may marry a woman who has the same name as his late mother. It would seem that, according to most of the reasons mentioned above, one may proceed with this shidduch. Nevertheless, some authorities are opposed, which indicates that they do not accept the reasons cited above (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:127).

Two versions

Returning to the responsum of the Chasam Sofer, he mentions another reason to be lenient, which requires some explanation. Regarding the concern that a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, or a son-in-law and father-in-law not share the same name, we find that the two sources attributed to Rav Yehudah Hachassid, the Sefer Chassidim and the tzava’ah, quote different versions of the prohibition. Whereas the tzava’ah states that a man should not marry a woman whose father shares his name, and a woman should not marry a man whose mother shares her given name, the text in the Sefer Chassidim (Chapter 477) states that if a man married a woman named Rivkah whose son also married a woman named Rivkah, then the grandson (the son’s son) should not marry a girl named Rivkah. The version quoted in Sefer Chassidim seems unconcerned about a man marrying a woman who shares his mother’s name or about a woman marrying a man with her father’s name. The Chasam Sofer concludes that the tzava’ah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid should also be understood this way.

Similar to the comment of the Chasam Sofer, the Chachmas Odom (123:13) notes that Rav Yehudah Hachassid clearly meant the same in both places, and that the Sefer Chassidim is written more accurately. Therefore, these two great authorities rule that even Rav Yehudah Hachassid was never concerned about a woman marrying someone whose mother shares her name, or a man marrying a woman whose father shares his.

Other lenient reasons

Although these three authorities — the Noda Biyehudah, the Chasam Sofer and the Chachmas Odom — are basically not concerned with the commonly understood application of Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s tzava’ah, other authorities are concerned, but provide additional reasons and applications when the concerns of Rav Yehudah Hachassid do not apply. Some mention that one need not be concerned where the two parties spell their names differently, even when they pronounce the name the same way (quoted in Sedei Chemed, Volume 7, page 17). However, the Sedei Chemed (Volume 7, page 20) concludes that the spelling should make no difference: either way, one should be concerned.

Variances of the name

The Kaf Hachayim (Yoreh Deah 116:12) mentions a dispute whether there is a concern when the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law have somewhat different names.  For example, may a woman named Rivkah Rachel marry a man whose mother’s name is Rachel, since their names are not identical? Some feel that this is relevant when the woman now being considered for the shidduch is called Rivkah, but does not provide any basis for lenience if, indeed, she uses Rachel regularly as part of her name. According to this opinion, if she chooses to add another name to avoid the concern of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, she should be called only by the new name (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:126).

Similarly, some rule that if the son-in-law is known by two different names, some people calling him by one name and others by a different name, there is no concern if the potential father-in-law has one of these names (see Sedei Chemed Volume 7, page 17).

On the other hand, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules there is concern only if the full given names of both the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (or the father-in-law and son-in-law) are identical. Prevalent practice follows this approach. An example is that my rosh yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, was not concerned that his daughter marry Rav Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, notwithstanding that both father-in-law and son-in-law used the named Yaakov alone as their primary name.

Different English names

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that if the father-in-law and son-in-law (or mother-in-law and daughter-in-law) have different English names, there is no concern, even if they share identical Hebrew names.

Changing the name

Some earlier authorities suggest that the chosson or the kallah change their name or add to it. For example, when someone asked the Chasam Sofer about having his daughter marry someone who shares his name, he advised them to have the chosson change his name (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 2:7, in the name of the Kerem Shlomo).

Rav Moshe Feinstein accepted this approach of the Chasam Sofer in theory. However, in a responsum on the topic, he wrote not to rely on changing the name since, at the time and place that he wrote his teshuvah, people would continue to use the original name. A name change means that the person is now called by the new name.

Stricter approaches

As mentioned, there are, other authorities who are highly concerned about violating the instructions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, and challenge or ignore the above heterim (quoted in Sedei Chemed Volume 7, pages 17 ff.; Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:125).

In conclusion

I leave it to the individual to discuss with his or her posek whether or not to pursue a particular shidduch because of an identical name or a different concern raised by Rav Yehudah Hachassid. Of course, we all realize that the most important factor is davening, asking Hashem to provide the appropriate shidduch in the right time.

May an Ashkenazi Eat Sirloin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRABERING

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

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

SIXTEENTH CENTURY POLAND

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

NOT USING HINDQUARTERS

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

ASHKENAZIC 18TH AND 19TH CENTURY PRACTICES

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

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

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

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

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

POLAND, 1936

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

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

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

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

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

THREE MODERN SHAYLOS

BRUSSELS, 1964

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

SOUTH AFRICA, 1990

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

UNITED STATES, 21st CENTURY

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

WHY DISTINGUISH BETWEEN CHEILEV AND GID HANOSHEH?

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

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

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

 

Fasting and Feasting on a Yahrtzeit

yahrtzeit candle

In honor of Aharon HaKohen’s yahrtzeit:

Question #1: “My father’s yahrtzeit falls during the week of sheva brachos for my grandson. May I attend the sheva brachos?”

Question #2: “My yahrtzeit falls on Shabbos this year. Do I fast on Friday or Sunday instead?”

Question #3: “I usually fast on my father’s yahrtzeit, but someone is honoring me with sandaka’us on that day. Do I fast, and do I need to be matir neder in the event that it is permitted to eat?

Answer:

We are all aware that one commemorates a yahrtzeit by kindling a 24-hour candle, by visiting the gravesite (if possible), and that men recite kaddish and lead the services in shul. The questions asked above center on observances that were at one time very common on a yahrtzeit, but have fallen into disuse. Specifically, they refer to the practices of commemorating a yahrtzeit by fasting from morning until nightfall and by refraining from attending or celebrating weddings and similar semachos.

Although fasting on a yahrtzeit is not a required practice, it was apparently widely accepted, as we see from the way the rishonim and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 568:1, 7) refer to it. The words of the Rama are: It is a mitzvah to fast on the day that his father or mother died (Yoreh Deah 376:5; 402:12), meaning that although not technically required, it is a strongly recommended practice.

Celebrations on a Yahrtzeit

The Rama also cites a ruling prohibiting eating at a celebration on the evening of one’s yahrtzeit (Darkei Moshe, Yoreh Deah 391:3, quoting Maharyo; and in his notes to Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah, at the end of Chapter 391 and at the end of Chapter 402). The assumption is that the Rama specifically forbids celebrating on the eve of the yahrtzeit, because the commemorator was presumably fasting on the day of the yahrtzeit itself.

The Levush (Yoreh Deah 391) disagrees that there is a prohibition to eat at a simcha on a yahrtzeit, noting that he never saw such a custom. The Shach retorts that since this is a relatively infrequent occurrence, the fact that the Levush never saw this practice does not demonstrate that such a prohibition does not exist.

Other authorities quote, in the name of the Ari, that the prohibition against eating at a wedding applies only on the first yahrtzeit, not in future years. However, both the Shach (Yoreh Deah 391:8 and 395:3) and the Taz (Yoreh Deah 395:3) agree with the Rama’s view that this prohibition exists at future yahrtzeits, as well.

What types of celebrations are prohibited?

The prohibition includes weddings, sheva brachos and other celebrations where music usually accompanies the occasion; but, one is permitted to participate in a seudah celebrating a bris milah, pidyon haben or siyum mesechta (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 391:8, quoting Shu”t Makom Shemuel #80; see also Elyah Rabbah 288:18). However, the Chachmas Adam (171:11) prohibits eating at a bris milah seudah, although he permits eating at a siyum.

What type of participation is prohibited?

The Rama discusses this proscription in three different places, and in all three places he records simply that it is forbidden to eat at the celebration, and not that there is a prohibition to attend, if one does not eat. This is different from the laws that a mourner must observe, which forbid him from attending a simcha. Thus, it appears that the reason for these yahrtzeit observances is not because there is a requirement to mourn, but for other reasons, which I will explain shortly.

It is interesting to note that the Rama prohibits eating at a simcha on the yahrtzeit, whereas his description of the daytime fast implies that, although it is a recommended observance, it is not required. The presumable explanation for the difference is that everyone is physically able to refrain from a celebration; therefore, this custom was accepted by Klal Yisroel. Fasting, which depends on an individual’s health and stamina, was never accepted as a requirement, only a recommendation.

How strict is this fast?

From several authorities, we see that fasting on a yahrtzeit was viewed very seriously. For example, the Taz (Orach Chayim 568:5) treats the fast on a yahrtzeit more strictly than the fasts that were universally observed on Behab, (Monday, Thursday and Monday following Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvan and Rosh Chodesh Iyar). The Hagahos Maimoniyos and the Rama rule that one who attends a bris seudah on Behab is not required to fast, even though they are assuming that the entire community is, otherwise, fasting. The Taz rules that someone making a bris on the day that he has yahrtzeit does not fast, but that someone attending this bris who has a yahrtzeit on that day should fast. Thus, he treats the fast on a yahrtzeit stricter than that of Behab.

The Pri Megadim (Orach Chayim, Mishbetzos Zahav 444:9) notes that, based on the comments of the Taz, the fast observed on a yahrtzeit is stricter than that which the firstborn observe on Erev Pesach, which we customarily set aside after attending a siyum, bris or other seudas mitzvah. He contends that someone who is fasting because he is observing a yahrtzeit, should not break his fast to join a siyum, bris or other seudas mitzvah.

Furthermore, the Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 568:5) rules that the yahrtzeit fastis stricter than the fast of Tisha B’av nidcheh, when the Ninth of Av falls on Shabbos and is postponed to Sunday. In the event of a bris, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 559:9) rule that the parents of the baby, the mohel, and the sandak daven Mincha as early as one can, make havdalah and then eat in honor of the fact that this day is a Yom Tov for them. However, the Pri Megadim rules that only the father has this leniency when observing a yahrtzeit, but someone honored with being sandek or mohel on a day that he is observing a yahrtzeit is required to observe the fast that he would usually keep. The Pri Megadim suggests that if he is the only mohel in town, he can consider this his personal Yom Tov, also, and eat, although he is inconclusive about it. He does not explain what difference it makes whether there are other mohalim in town.

Accept the day before

Several distinctions result from the fact that fasting on a yahrtzeit is recommended but not required. Whenever someone decides to keep a fast that halachah does not require, he must accept the fast during Mincha of the day before. This “acceptance” is usually done at the conclusion of the Elokai Netzor,reciting a text that is printed in many siddurim. Since fasting on a yahrtzeit is not required, the individual must accept it from the day before.

However, someone who usually fasts on his parent’s yahrtzeit is required to fast that day anyway, unless he specified on the first year that he does not intend to fast every year (Chachmas Adam 171:11). Such a person is required to fast whether or not he remembered to accept the fast at Mincha the day before. Should he decide one year that he does not want to fast, he must perform hataras nedarim to release himself from the custom he has accepted. We will soon discuss what he should do if the yahrtzeit falls on Shabbos.

The authorities dispute whether someone who took ill on the yahrtzeit requires hataras nedarim. The Mishnah Berurah (581:19) notes that the Magen Avraham (581:12) does not require hatarah, explaining that we can assume that he never accepted fasting on yahrtzeits under these circumstances. However, the Shach (Yoreh Deah, 214:2) rules that he is required to perform hataras nedarim. The Chachmas Adam (171:11) concludes that he should do hataras nedarim in this situation.

Why fast on a yahrtzeit?

The earliest source that I discovered who records this custom is the Sefer Chassidim (#231, 232), who notes that, throughout Jewish history, people have fasted in memory of the passing of a great individual. Thus, we find that Dovid Hamelech fasted upon hearing that Shaul had died, and also when he heard of Avner’s assassination (Shemuel II, 1, 12; 3:35). Similarly, the Yerushalmi (Moed Katan 3:7) reports that Rabbi Avahu fasted on the day that he saw a talmid chacham die, and that when Rabbi Yonah heard of the passing of the son of Rabbi Eliezer, he fasted the rest of the day. The Shulchan Aruch records this practice in Yoreh Deah 378:4.

Although these sources reflect fasting on the day of the death only, the Sefer Chassidim cites Scriptural basis that there is halachic reason to be sad when the date of a sad event recurs in a future year.

What is the reason for fasting on a yahrtzeit?

The Sefer Chassidim presents two reasons for fasting on a parent’s yahrtzeit:

(1) As a sign of respect. A similar idea is quoted by other authorities: fasting on the yahrtzeit provides atonement (kapparah)for the parent (Shu”t Mahari Mintz #9 at end; Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 161).

(2) A person’s soul is linked to that of his parents, and, therefore, the son himself suffers on the day of the yahrtzeit. Later authorities explain that on the yahrtzeit day, the child’s mazel is not good, and he should fast to protect himself (Shu”t Mahari Mintz #9 at end; Shu”t Maharshal #9; Levush, Yoreh Deah 402:12; Shach, Yoreh Deah 402:10).

Some later authorities understand that these reasons are not complementary, but conflicting reasons for the fast, and that there are resultant differences in halachah (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 161). For example, if the reason is to protect oneself because one’s mazel is not good, it is dependent on the person’s concern. One who is unconcerned does not need to fast (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 161).

Fasting on the yahrtzeit of one’s rebbe muvhak

Here is another situation in which the decision as to whether to fast or not is dependent upon the reason for the fast. The Mishnah Berurah (568:46), quoting the Shelah Hakadosh, says that one should fast also on the yahrtzeit of one’s rebbe muvhak, the person from whom he learned most of the Torah that he knows. The Shelah explains that one fasts this day because he owes more honor to his rebbe muvhak than to his parent, as is mentioned in several places in halachah. However, this reason requires one to fast only if we assume that fasting on a yahrtzeit is because of honor or as a kapparah for the departed. If the observance is to protect the one fasting, the requirement to show respect to one’s teacher should not affect his mazel, and there is no reason for a disciple to fast on the yahrtzeit of his rebbe (Elyah Rabbah, Orach Chayim 288:18 and 568:15).

Why not feast?

Although I did not find any authorities who explain why it is prohibited to eat at a celebration on a yahrtzeit, it would seem that the basis for this prohibition is the same as the reasons for fasting: either it is considered disrespectful to one’s parent to be celebrating on such a day, or that since one’s mazel is not good on this day, one should refrain from celebration.

Reciting Aneinu

Someone who fasts on his yahrtzeit should recite Aneinu in his private Shemoneh Esrei, but not in the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, unless coincidentally there is a minyan of people fasting.

When does one not fast?

Notwithstanding the importance attached to the fast on a yahrtzeit, there are many days that halachah prohibits fasting, because this desecrates the sanctity of the day. For example, the Levush says that one should not fast on any day that we do not recite tachanun. As we will soon see, there is a dispute among authorities whether one should fast in this instance on the day or two before or after the yahrtzeit (assuming that this is a day when it is permitted to fast), or whether since one is not fasting on the yahrtzeit itself, there is no reason to fast at all.

What happens if the yahrtzeit falls on Shabbos?

If the yahrtzeit falls on Shabbos, the Maharik ruled that one should fast on a different day instead. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 568:9) follows this approach and rules that one should fast on Sunday; and if the yahrtzeit falls on Rosh Chodesh, that one should fast on the second of the month. When the second of the month falls on Shabbos, some authorities contend that one should fast on Sunday, the third of the month (Kaf Hachayim 568:93, 96, quoting Shelah and Elyah Rabbah 568:15).

Others follow the approach of the Maharik, but disagree with the Shulchan Aruch’s decision to postpone the fast, contending instead that the fast should be before the yahrtzeit. They contend that the fast should be on Erev Shabbos or Erev Rosh Chodesh (Kaf Hachayim 568:94, quoting Kavod Chachamim and Penei Aharon).

On the other hand, other authorities (Shu”t Maharshal #9) dispute the Maharik’s conclusion, ruling that when a yahrtzeit falls on a day that one cannot fast, the custom is not to fast at all. The Rama follows this ruling. Some Sefardic poskim also follow this ruling, unlike the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch (Kaf Hachayim 568:94, quoting Leket Hakemach).

The authorities dispute whether one whose yahrtzeit falls either on Rosh Chodesh Nisan or on Rosh Chodesh Av should fast on those days, even though they are days when we recite Musaf and do not say tachanun (Kaf Hachayim 568:97). The reason that these two days are exceptions is because they are mentioned as days when it is permitted to fast. The Chachmas Adam (171:11), however, rules that the accepted custom is to refrain from fasting on any Rosh Chodesh, and that is the prevalent custom among Ashkenazim.

If the yahrtzeit falls on Friday, the Maharshal rules that, on the first yahrtzeit, he should not complete the day’s fast, whereas if he already fasted in a previous year, he must complete the fast.

Those who do not fast

In the last centuries, we find many sources that do not encourage fasting when it might causesomeone to study Torah with less diligence. Instead, one should dedicate all his strength to the study of Torah on the yahrtzeit. For this reason, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his tzava’ah, instructed his descendants to study Torah assiduously on his yahrtzeit and not fast, and this is recorded to have been the practice of the Chasam Sofer, the Kesav Sofer, the Chazon Ish and the Steipler. Rabbi Akiva Eiger instructed his descendants not to sleep at all on his yahrtzeit, but to study Torah through the night.

I have seen it recorded that the Chasam Sofer made a siyum when observing a yahrtzeit, but served a milchig meal, so that it not appear that he was celebrating on the day. This also accomplished the seudas mitzvah’s preempting the requirement to fast, and fulfilled chesed by providing a meal to the poor.

In most Chassidic circles, a practice developed of performing chesed on a yahrtzeit –specifically to make sure that the poor people in town had a proper meal on the day of the yahrtzeit. The brachos recited thereby created a tikun for the departed soul, and therefore, this practice became called tikun. This developed into a custom of serving schnapps and mezonos on the yahrtzeit.

With time, some had concerns about this practice, particularly the kashrus of the foods and beverages served. Rav Avraham Meir Israel, a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Chasan Sofer in Brooklyn, wrote to Dayan Yitzchak Weiss, saying that he would like to stop the custom of tikun that had developed, primarily because of concern that the whiskey was often chometz she’avar alav hapesach; it had been owned by Jewish storekeepers, distributors or manufacturers on Pesach and had not been sold, thus rendering it prohibited. In his response, Dayan Weiss agrees with Rabbi Israel’s concerns, particularly since this custom of tikun has extremely weak halachic foundations. Nevertheless, Dayan Weiss quotes numerous Chassidic sources that support this custom. In conclusion, he feels that one should not change the custom where it is practiced. However, where there are kashrus concerns, he suggests providing very detailed instructions as to where one may purchase the products being served. (This author is aware that many kashrus concerns have been raised recently on liquor; however, we will discuss that topic a different time.)

The Sedei Chemed (Volume 5 page 241 #40) voices strong opposition to the minhag of tikun for a different reason: that people celebrate the tikun in the shul or Beis Medrash, and it is prohibited to eat or drink in shul, except for talmidei chachamim who are permitted to eat in a Beis Medrash while they are in the middle of their studying. This problem can be avoided by celebrating the tikun in a room adjacent to the shul which is not used regularly for prayer. In a later edition, included now in the current editions of Sedei Chemed (Volume 5, page 335 #4), he quotes subsequent correspondence from the Brezhaner Rav, who wrote him that it is permitted to conduct any seudas mitzvah in a shul, and therefore it is permitted to have tikun there. The Sedei Chemed further quotes the Spinker Rebbe, who wrote him that all the admorim conduct their tishin in the Beis Medrash on the basis that our shullen are built with the understanding that these activities may be conducted there.

Conclusion

However one observes a yahrtzeit, one should always remember that the day be used for reflection, introspection and teshuvah. Ultimately, this is the best tool to use, both as a tikun neshamah for the departed and as a protection for the person commemorating the yahrtzeit.

Double Parshiyos and the Leap Year

Question #1: When is it a good idea to have doubles?

Question #2: Disproportionate readings

Why are the last four parshiyos of the Torah so short? Would it not make sense that the weekly readings be more evenly divided?

Question #3: Why does is take them so long to catch up?

Sometimes the weekly reading in Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz are a week apart for months on end. Why don’t we coordinate things better?

Answer

Most doctors and other health professionals agree with the Rambam’s assessment that taking a double portion is not good for our health. Nevertheless, in most calendar years, our policy is to have several weeks of the year when we read a double parsha, and this is definitely good policy; otherwise, we would have difficulty completing the Torah every year and making a Siyum HaTorah on Simchas Torah. This year 5774 adds an unusual feature, in that there is only one parsha doubled the entire year, and that is not until the very last week of the year – almost as if we need to break the no-hitter in the ninth inning. Although this happened exactly three years ago, the time before that this happened was almost thirty years ago — back in 5744/1983/4, and we will not see this phenomenon again for another 21 years. Those who deplore long Shabbos davenings, and those curious to find out why this year was so singular – stay aboard.

There are a total of seven potential “double parshiyos,” meaning parshiyos that can sometimes be read as one reading on a Shabbos, but we rarely double them all in the same year. The reason for the doubling of most parshiyos is to accommodate the extra Shabbosos that are missing in a common (non-leap) year, which is a month shorter than a leap year; but, this is not the only reason for doubled parshiyos. Since the doubling of most parshiyos is to accommodate the four extra weeks of the leap year (or the four missing Shabbosos of the common year, depending on whether you look at the year as half-full or half-empty), four of the doubled parshiyos are at the end of Sefer Shemos or in Sefer Vayikra (Vayakheil-Pekudei; Tazria-Metzora; Acharei-Kedoshim and Behar-Bechukosei) – all of them falling between Adar, the new month added because of a leap year, and Shavuos.

Why do we want to “catch up” in time for Shavuos? This is so that we can fulfill a decree of Ezra, as presented in the Gemara:[1]

Ezra decreed that the Jews read the curses of the Tochacha in Vayikra before Shavuos and those of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah. [The Gemara then queries:] Why? In order to end the year together with its curses! [The Gemara then comments:] We well understand why we read the Tochacha of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah because the year is ending, but why is that of Vayikra read before Shavuos? Is Shavuos the beginning of a year? Yes, Shavuos is the beginning of a new year, as the Mishnah explains that the world is judged on Shavuos for fruit.” Tosafos (ad loc.) explains the Gemara to mean that the tochacha should be completed two weeks before each “New Year,” to allow there to be one Shabbos as a buffer between the Tochacha and the beginning of the year.[2] Therefore, the parsha of Bechukosei, which includes the tochacha, should be read at least two weeks before Shavuos, thus necessitating combining the parshiyos in a way that we complete them and are able to read Bamidbar before Shavuos. As a result, in most years there is one Shabbos between the tochacha of Bechukosei and Shavuos, when we read Parshas Bamidbar. In some leap years, there are two Shabbosos between Bechukosei and Shavuos; in those years, Naso is also read before Shavuos.

There are three other “double parshiyos” that do not come out during this part of the year, and each has its own reason for doubling the parshiyos, a reason that is unrelated to whether it is a leap year.

The “Double Parsha of the Exile”

Chukas-Balak is a double parsha that exists only outside Eretz Yisrael. I once heard it jokingly refered to as “Parsha Sheniyah shel Galiyus,” The Double Parsha of the Exile, a takeoff on the halachic term “Yom Tov Sheini shel Galiyus,” the second day of Yom Tov that is observed outside Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, the two days of Yom Tov in chutz la’aretz is the reason for combining Chukas and Balak into one parsha. When Shavous falls on Friday, its second day is on Shabbos, and, therefore, the communities of the exile read Aseir te’aseir in Parshas Re’eih, because it discusses the Yom Tov, whereas in Eretz Yisrael the next week’s parsha, Naso, is read, since it is no longer Shavuos. When this phenomenon occurs, the Jewish communities of Eretz Yisrael and of the Golah are reading different parshiyos for four weeks, from Parshas Naso through Parshas Chukas, with Eretz Yisrael always reading the parsha a week earlier, until the Golah “catches up” on the Shabbos that falls on the 12th of Tamuz, by reading both Chukas and Balak on one Shabbos, while in Eretz Yisrael they read only Parshas Balak. Thus, the following week, both communities read Parshas Pinchas.

The doubling of Matos and Masei

There are two other parshiyos, Matos and Masei, which are almost always read together, and are separated only when the year requires an extra Shabbos reading, as it did this year. Although we treat Matos and Masei as separate parshiyos, we should really view them as one long parsha (making the combination the largest parsha in the Torah), that occasionally needs to be divided to accommodate the need for an extra Torah reading.

In the occasional years when Matos and Masei are read separately, Parshas Pinchas falls before the Three Weeks — and we actually get to read the haftarah that is printed in the chumashim for Parshas Pinchas, Ve’yad Hashem, from the book of Melachim. In all other years, Parshas Pinchas is the first Shabbos of the three weeks, and the haftarah read is Divrei Yirmiyahu, the opening words of the book of Yirmiyahu, which is appropriate to the season. The printers of chumashim usually elect to print Divrei Yirmiyahu as if it is the haftarah for Parshas Matos, and then instruct you to read it on most years, instead, as the haftarah for Pinchas. What is more logical is to label this haftarah as the one appropriate for the first of the three weeks, and to print both after Pinchas; one for the occasional year when Pinchas falls before the 17th of Tamuz, and one for the far more frequent year when it falls after, and instruct people that when there is a haftarah to be read just for Parshas Matos, that they should read the second haftarah printed after Parshas Pinchas. But, alas, the printers do not usually consult with me, but look at what other printers have already done.

When do they go alone?

In what years are Matos and Masei separated? Only in leap years and only when there are no parshiyos doubled together from Simchas Torah until the week before Rosh Hashanah. (I will explain shortly why Parshas Netzavim is treated differently.) There are two types of leap years that require Matos and Masei to be separated:

(1) A leap year that begins on a Thursday.

A leap year adds an extra month, which is thirty days, not 28. Thus, a leap year sometimes adds five extra Shabbosos, not just four, and there is a need to add an extra reading. This occurs when a leap year begins on a Thursday. In calendar jargon, these years are called החא and השג, which both mean that Rosh Hashanah falls on Thursday. In these years, to accommodate the extra Shabbos, the parshiyos of Matos and Masei are separated. As we can imagine, this is not a very common occurrence – a leap year that begins with Rosh Hashanah on Thursday. However, not only did this happen this year, but it also continued an interesting and quirky streak: This was the fourth leap year in a row to begin on a Thursday. Leap years 5765 (the eighth year of the current cycle), 5768 (the eleventh year of the current cycle), and 5771 (the fourteenth year of the current cycle) all began on Thursday. Thus, Matos was separated from Masei this year for the fourth time in ten years. This streak is broken, finally, in the next leap year, 5776, when Rosh Hashanah occurs on a Monday, and Matos and Masei are again combined. At this point, one will have to get used to long davenings in the middle of the summer, since the next time that Matos and Masei are separate is not until 5795, the secular year 2034, which means that 21 years will pass before Matos and Masei are again read on separate Shabbosos.

(2) What I have said until now is accurate only if you are outside Eretz Yisrael. There is one other situation in Eretz Yisrael in which the parshiyos of Matos and Masei are read on separate weeks, because, otherwise, there are simply not enough readings for every Shabbos of the year. When Rosh Hashanah of a leap year falls on a Tuesday, or in some leap years, even when it falls on a Monday, Eretz Yisrael has to read every possible separate parsha from Rosh Hashanah until the next Rosh Hashanah to accommodate all the Shabbosos of the year. In these years, in Eretz Yisrael, there are no doubled parshiyos, and, therefore, Matos and Masei are separated.

Why is this dependent on being in Eretz Yisrael? The year is the same length no matter where you are, and there seem to be just as many Shabbosos in Eretz Yisrael as there are outside?

The difference is that in these years, the Eighth Day of Pesach, Acharon shel Pesach, falls on Shabbos. On this Yom Tov day, observed only outside Eretz Yisrael, the special Yom Tov reading in chutz la’aretz is Aseir te’aseir, whereas in Eretz Yisrael this Shabbos is after Pesach (although the house is still chometz-free!), and the reading is Parshas Acharei. Thus, in chutz la’aretz there is a need to double a parsha, and, according to what is today common practice, that parsha is Matos and Masei.

The practice I just mentioned however creates a very unusual phenomenon:

The subsequent Shabbos, the Jews of Eretz Yisrael are already reading Parshas Kedoshim, whereas outside Eretz Yisrael the reading is Parshas Acharei. The communities outside Eretz Yisrael ignore the opportunity of doubling up parshiyos Acharei and Kedoshim, Behar and Becholosai and Chukas and Balak, all of which are doubled together upon other occasions, and wait until the very last parsha of Bamidbar to combine Matos with Masei. Thus, the disparity between Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz lasts for over three months, until Parshas Masei, which, as I mentioned above, outside Eretz Yisrael is doubled into MatosMasei. By the way, this phenomenon is fast approaching. Hebrew year 5776, to be here in two years, follows this pattern, so those who return to chutz la’aretz after spending Pesach in Eretz Yisrael will find that they have missed a parsha. Unless, of course, they decide to stay in Eretz Yisrael until the Nine Days.

The Long Wait to Double

This leads to a very interesting question: Why is the disparity between Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz allowed to last for such a long period of time? There are three potential doubled parshiyos that are passed before one gets to Parshas Matos – all weeks in which those in chutz la’aretz could combine two parshiyos in order to catch up.

As you can imagine, we are not the first to raise this question, which is indeed raised by one of the great sixteenth-century poskim, the Maharit (Shu’t Volume II # 4). He answers that Shavuos should ideally fall between Bamidbar and Naso, and that combining either Acharei with Kedoshim, or Behar with Bechokosai would push Shavuos until after Parshas Naso. Indeed, in these years, this is what happens in Eretz Yisrael, but there is no option there, since there are simply not enough Shabbosos for all the parshiyos. In chutz la’aretz, since one can have the readings occur on the preferred weeks, we delay the combined parshiyos until after Shavuos.

However, the Maharit notes that this does not explain why the parshiyos of Chukas and Balak are not combined, although he notes that the Syrian communities indeed follow this practice — that is, on leap years when Acharon shel Pesach falls on Shabbos, they combine parshiyos Chukas and Balak, but read Matos and Masei on separate weeks, as is done in Eretz Yisrael.

To explain why the parshiyos of Chukas and Balak are not combined in other communities, the Maharit concludes that once most of the summer has passed and the difference is what to read on only three Shabbosos, we combine Matos with Masei, which are usually combined, rather than Chukas and Balak, which are usually separate.

NetzavimVayeilech

We have now explained the reason for every time we read a double parsha, with one important and anomalous exception – the two tiny parshiyos of Netzavim and Vayeilech. Tosafos already asks why we often combine the two huge parshiyos of Matos and Masei, and in the very same year, read the two tiny parshiyos of Netzavim and Vayeilech on separate weeks. His answer is based on his explanation to the Gemara that we quoted earlier:

Ezra decreed that the Jews read the curses of the Tochacha in Vayikra before Shavuos and those of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah. [The Gemara then queries:] Why? In order to end the year together with its curses, which Tosafos understood to mean that the tochacha should be completed two weeks before Rosh Hashanah to allow a week as a buffer between the tochacha and the beginning of the year.

That buffer parsha is Netzavim, which must always be read on the last Shabbos of the year; but, ultimately, this means that only a small part of the Torah is left to be read between Rosh Hashanah and Simchas Torah. This small part left is divided into three small parshiyos, Vayeilech, Haazinu, and Vezos Haberacha. Vezos Haberacha is, of course, read on Simchas Torah, and Haazinu on the last Shabbos of the cycle, which is either Shabbos Shuva or the Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, if there is one. Thus, whether Vayeilech merits its own Shabbos or is combined with Netzavim depends on only one factor: if there is more than one Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos. When there are two such Shabbosos, Vayeilech is read on Shabbos Shuva, and Haazinu the week afterwards. When there is only one Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos, Vayeilech is combined with Netzavim on the week before Rosh Hashanah, and Haazinu is read the week of Shabbos Shuva.

Conclusion

From all of the above, we see the importance that Chazal placed on the public reading of the Torah and of completing its cycle annually. It goes without saying that we should be concerned with being attentive to the words of the Torah as they are being read, and that the baal keriah should make every effort to read them accurately.

 

[1] Gemara Megillah 31b; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 13:2

[2] The Levush explains that without the week as a buffer, the Satan could use te Tochacha as a means of prosecuting against us on the judgment day

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