Should a Kohen Be Afraid of Confederate Ghosts?

clip_image002When Yaakov Avinu asks his sons not to bury him in Egypt, Rashi notes three reasons for this request:

(1) The earth of Egypt would turn to lice during the Ten Plagues.

(2) To avoid the suffering of rolling to Eretz Yisroel at the time of techiyas hameisim.

(3) To prevent the Egyptians from making him into an idol.

On the other hand, although Yosef and his brothers undoubtedly had the same motives to be buried in Eretz Yisroel, they could not arrange their immediate burials there and were interred in Egypt until the Jews left. This is a classic example of the exhumation and reburial of meisim (human remains).

Our article will discuss a case where meisim were supposed to have been reburied, but apparently were not, creating a number of halachic concerns.

THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

In a major metropolis, one section of the city included a large cemetery. About 140 years ago, this cemetery was closed to new burials and later, many of its graves were exhumed. Subsequently, the city constructed residential and commercial areas, city streets, a major park, a zoo, and museums atop the seventy-two acres of the cemetery.

Here is the historical background: In 5603/1843, the city designated a sixty acre area as a cemetery and three years later, a Jewish organization paid $45 to purchase part of this land as its own cemetery. Four years later, in 5610/1850, the city purchased an adjacent area of twelve more acres to expand the cemetery, so that it now encompassed 72 acres.

However, in the late 1850’s, a prominent physician requested that the cemetery be closed because of concern that it was too close to the city’s water supply and that it might spread disease. Until that point, this cemetery was the only authorized one in the city, and included a large “potters’ field,” or area for burying the destitute and the unidentified.

Two years later, an area immediately north of the cemetery was set aside as a park. During this time, the city gradually ceased using the cemetery. However, since the area was near a large prisoner-of-war camp housing captured Confederate soldiers, an estimated 4,000 Confederates who died in custody were interred in the cemetery’s potters’ field. At one time, the cemetery held an estimated 35,000 graves, including the resting place for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the Confederacy.

In 5626/1866 the cemetery was officially closed, partly due to the physician’s health concerns. By now, the Civil War was over and the surviving Confederate captives had been repatriated. The city officially decided to move the remains buried in this cemetery to other locations. Over the next thirty years there are numerous scattered reports of moving the graves to new locations. Despite attempts to remove graves, a conservative speculation is that the majority of the remains were never removed.

Fast forward to the modern era: In 5722/1962, workers digging a foundation for the zoo’s new barn discovered a skeleton and a casket. They reburied the casket in situ and poured the foundation right on top. During 5758/1998, workers constructing a parking lot in the area discovered 81 skeletons and an iron casket containing a cadaver. There are at least nineteen more reports of human bones found in the disused cemetery’s location.

Thus, the shaylah is whether a Kohen may walk through the streets and businesses of this old-time burial ground.

Steve Katz lives and works in this city and is well aware of the history of this park and its environs. His boss assigns him to attend a business meeting at a hotel that is located in the area that was originally the cemetery. Since Steve is a Kohen, may he attend the meeting? If he cannot, how will he explain this to his gentile employer?

Steve made an appointment to discuss the problem with his Rav, whom he knows will explain to him all the aspects of the shaylah.

WILL THE TUMAH RISE FROM THE GROUND?

Rav Goldberg begins by explaining some of the halachic background. When human remains are buried, under most circumstances the tumah rises directly above and contaminates the area above it. If a building is constructed directly above a grave, tumah may spread throughout that building, although sometimes it may spread only through the bottom floor and possibly only into the room constructed directly above the grave. We will have to leave for another time the discussion as to what factors affect how far tumah will spread through the structure.

If there is no building, tree or overhang over the gravesite, one becomes tamei only if one walks or stands directly above the gravesite.

SAFEK TUMAH BIRSHUS HARABIM

“However, the specific situation that you are asking about may be more lenient,” explains the Rav, “because of a concept called safek tumah birshus harabim, sefeiko tahor, which means, literally, that if there is doubt about whether something in a public area became tamei, the halacha is that it remains tahor (see Nazir 57a). Notwithstanding our usual assumption that safek de’oraysa lechumra, we rule strictly on doubts concerning Torah prohibitions, we rule leniently concerning a doubt of matters of tumah when the question occurred in a “public” area, a term we will define shortly.

There is also an inverse principle that safek tumah birshus hayachid, sefeiko tamei, which means that if there is doubt whether someone or something contracted tumah when they were in a private area, they are considered tamei.

WHAT IS PUBLIC?

For the purposes of these two principles, “public” is defined as an area to which at least three people have ready access, and “private” means a place that is accessible to less than three people. Thus, someone who discovers that he may have become tamei while walking down the street remains tahor. However, if he discovers that he may have become tamei while he was in a private area he is tamei. (All of these laws are derived from pesukim.)

“I know that there is more to explain,” interjects Steve, “but it would appear that one could have a situation in which one may enter a building, but one may not use the bathrooms, have a private office, or have a private interview.”

“It is certainly true,” responded the sage, “that someone entering a public building and discovering that he may have become tamei while there, would remain tahor, whereas if he entered a similar private area, he would be considered tamei. However, there are other factors to consider before we reach a definitive ruling.”

MAY THE KOHEN ENTER?

At this point, Steve raised a sophisticated point:

“I understand that someone who entered this area would afterwards be considered tahor. But may I enter the area knowing that I may be contaminating my kehunah?”

The Rav explained: “You are asking whether a Kohen may lichatchilah rely on the principle of safek tumah birshus harabim, or whether this principle is applied only after the fact. In general, one must be stringent when there is concern that one may be violating a Torah prohibition, and it is prohibited min hatorah for a Kohen to contact tumah from a meis. Thus, one could assume that a Kohen should not enter an area where there is a possibility of tumah. However, many authorities rule leniently when dealing with a safek tumah birshus harabim. They contend that the Torah only prohibited a Kohen from becoming tamei, but not from entering a situation where he will be ruled as tahor (Tosafos, Kesubos 28b s.v. Beis; Shu”t Rashba #83; Binas Odom, Klal 157; Pischei Teshuvah 369:4, quoting Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah; Minchas Chinuch 263:13 s.v. Vehinei). Thus, a Kohen could enter any publicly available area, including an office or residential building constructed over the city’s defunct cemetery. However, he could not enter an area restricted to less than three people.

“Others contend that since the Torah prohibits a Kohen from being in contact with a meis, he is similarly prohibited, because of safek de’oraysah lechumra, to be in a place where he might be exposed to a meis” (Tzelach, Berachos 19b; Achiezer 3:1:1, 3:65:7; Kovetz Shiurim; Teshuvos VeHanhagos).

STATUS QUO

Steve raised another point:

“In fact, we know that this area was once a cemetery, and we are fairly certain that not all the graves were exhumed. Does this make matters worse?”

“You are raising a very insightful question. Even assuming that a Kohen can rely on the principle of safek tumah bireshus harabim, this principle might not apply here since we know that this area was once a cemetery, and we are fairly certain that some graves remain. Thus we have a chazakah, status quo, that the area was once tamei meis, and we are uncertain whether the tumah was removed. In such a situation, perhaps the principle of safek tumah birshus harabim does not apply, since this rule may apply only where there is no status quo. (In Mikvaos 2:2, this seems to be the subject of a dispute between Tannayim. See also Tosafos, Niddah 2a s.v. Vehillel.)

“Nevertheless, in our particular case, we have some basis to be lenient. Although this entire area was once set aside as a cemetery, it is very unlikely that it became filled wall-to-wall with graves, and also, only the places directly above the graves were tamei. Thus, any place within the cemetery was tamei because of doubt, not because of certainty.

JEWISH VERSUS NON-JEWISH GRAVES

“There is another reason to permit entering the hotel for your meeting. People who researched the area have ascertained the exact location of the original Jewish cemetery, which is now the location of the ball fields of a local park. Thus, although I would advise you and your sons not to play ball on those particular diamonds, we can be more lenient regarding entering the hotel constructed in the area, as I will explain.”

Steve replied: “But how can we be certain that no Jews were ever buried in the non-Jewish cemetery. There definitely were some Jewish soldiers in the Confederate army, and it is likely that some Jews were buried in the non-Jewish cemetery or in the potters’ field.”

His Rav replied: “You are correct that some Jews were probably buried in the non-Jewish parts of the cemetery. Nevertheless, since we do not know this for certain, we may work with the assumption that there are no Jews there.”

“But even a non-Jewish body conveys tumah, so I still have a problem.”

“This depends on whether remains of a gentile convey tumas ohel, that is by being under the same being under the roof, cover, or overhang that is at least three inches (a tefach) wide.

DO THE REMAINS OF A NON-JEW CONVEY TUMAH?

“Although virtually all authorities agree that remains of a non-Jew convey tumah through touching and carrying, the Gemara cites the opinion of Rabbi Shimon that remains of a non-Jew do not convey tumas ohel (Yevamos 61a). The Rishonim dispute whether this position is held universally, and, in addition, whether this is the way we rule. It appears that most Rishonim conclude that a Kohen may enter a room containing the remains of a gentile because they follow Rabbi Shimon’s position. Others contend that we do not follow Rabbi Shimon’s position and that tumah of a gentile does spread through ohel. The Shulchan Aruch considers the question as unresolved and advises a Kohen not to walk over the graves of non-Jews (Yoreh Deah 372:2).”

At this point, Steve commented. “It seems from what you are saying that it is not a good idea for a Kohen to enter buildings in this area, but one may enter if there is a pressing reason” (see Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #470).

The Rav responded: “This is the conclusion of many authorities. Some are even more lenient. One famous responsum permits a Kohen to enter a field that he purchased without realizing that it contained an unmarked gentile cemetery. The author permits this by combining two different leniencies, each of which is somewhat questionable. One leniency is that perhaps a gentile does not spread tumah through ohel, and the other leniency is that some early authorities contend that once a Kohen becomes tamei, he is not forbidden from making himself tamei again (Raavad, Hil. Nezirus 5:15, as explained by Mishneh LaMelech, Hil. Aveil 3:1). Although we do not rule like this last opinion, the Avnei Nezer contends that one can combine both of these ideas to permit the Kohen who purchased this field without realizing the problem to utilize his purchase (Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #466).”

“This case of the Avnei Nezer sounds like a much more difficult situation in which to rule leniently than mine,” noted Steve. “After all, in his case there was no attempt to clear out the cemetery.”

“You are correct. For this reason, I would certainly not find fault with someone who chose to be lenient and indiscriminately enter the area that was only a gentile cemetery, relying on the ruling that gentile remains do not contaminate through ohel, and on the principle of safek tumah birshus harabim.”

“It still seems that one should avoid the ball fields that are located right over the old Jewish cemetery.”

“I would certainly advise this,” closed the Rabbi.

So Steve does not need to explain to his boss that he cannot attend business meetings at the hotel because of lost Confederate ghosts.

Although there may be little reason to panic over such issues, as we have discussed, one should be aware that it is not infrequent to discover old cemeteries beneath modern cities. Cemeteries, particularly Jewish ones, were always consecrated on sites outside the city limits in order to avoid the obvious problems of tumah affecting kohanim. Unfortunately, when Jews were exiled, the whereabouts of many cemeteries became forgotten, and in addition, as cities expand, they include areas that were originally outside the city’s limits that often include earlier cemeteries. Thus, these problems will continue to prevail. In each case, a posek must be consulted to find out whether, and to what extent, a Kohen need be concerned.

WHY IS IT PROHIBITED FOR A KOHEN TO COME IN CONTACT WITH A MEIS?

It is beyond our understanding to explain why Hashem commanded us to keep each specific mitzvah. However, we can and should attempt to glean a taste of Hashem’s mitzvos in order to appreciate and grow from the experience, including understanding why the Torah bans a Kohen from having contact with a meis under normal circumstances.

Rav Hirsch, in his commentary on Vayikra 21:5, provides a beautiful educational insight into this mitzvah. In most religions, fear of death is a major “selling point” of the religion. Thus, the role of the priest is most important when dealing with the dying and the dead.

However, Torah emphasizes how to live like a Jew — to study Torah, perform the mitzvos, and develop ourselves in Hashem’s image. To emphasize that Hashem provided us with the blueprint for perfect living, the Torah excludes the Kohen, who is the nation’s teacher, from involvement with death. Thus, the Kohen’s role is to imbue us with the knowledge and enthusiasm to truly live!

What I Borrow, I Must Surely Return

In Parshas Mishpatim, the Torah teaches us the responsibilities we assume when watching or borrowing other people’s property. Personal experience has demonstrated that most people are unfamiliar with the halachic obligations entailed in borrowing.

SHE’EILAH VS. HALVA’AH

Hebrew uses two different words for borrowing, she’eilah and halva’ah, which describe two different types of transactions with major legal distinctions. She’eilah means borrowing an item that will itself be returned. In a she’eilah, the pikadon, the item loaned, remains the property of the lender, and the borrower has rights to use it. (The borrower is called the sho’el and the lender is called the mash’eil.)

Halva’ah, on the other hand, refers to an item that will not be returned. Rather, the borrower uses the item and returns its value or a replacement item. Although often people think that only borrowing money is considered halva’ah, borrowing eggs is also halva’ah since they will be eaten and different eggs will be returned. Similarly, borrowing any item that will not be returned intact is halva’ah. In a halva’ah, the borrower becomes the owner of the loaned item and assumes financial responsibility to repay the lender. Once the borrower receives the loaned item, the lender loses his legal right to ask for the item back. (An exception to this is if the item is loaned in error, for example, if I loan someone an item that is more valuable than I intended.) This is in contrast to an item given as a she’eilah where the borrower assumes responsibility to care for the item and returns it intact when the loan is over.

At times, borrowing money can be she’eilah and not halva’ah. For example, if I borrow a rare coin for an exhibit, it is understood that I do not intend to spend it and that I will return the same coin. Therefore, it has the laws of she’eilah.

OTHER DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SHE’EILAH AND HALVA’AH

There are many other halachic differences between she’eilah and halva’ah. For example, the borrower of a halva’ah that has no specific repayment deadline automatically has 30 days to repay the loan (Choshen Mishpat 73:1). However, an item lent as a she’eilah without specifying a length of time must be returned as soon as the owner wants it back (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 341:1).

Charging money for she’eilah is not prohibited; this is called rental. In this case, the “borrower” is now a “renter” and is less responsible for the item than a borrower is.

However, charging for a halva’ah is considered interest and is prohibited because of ribbis. It should be noted that in the case mentioned above where a coin was borrowed for an exhibit, one may charge a rental fee for the coin without incurring the prohibition of ribbis since it is a she’eilah and not a halva’ah (Yoreh Deah 176:1). (There are specific other rules that must be followed in these circumstances to avoid ribbis that are beyond the scope of this article.)

The following story illustrates a case where money was loaned as a pikadon and not as a halva’ah.

Reuven was negotiating a business deal which required investing a significant amount of his capital. The potential partner insisted on proof that Reuven could produce the required funds. Although Reuven had sufficient resources for this purpose, it was easier for him to “rent” money from a third party as a pikadon. The agreement was that he would not use the money and would return the very same banknotes to the lender.

Two shaylos are involved in this case. 1. Is this act geneivas da’as, deception, since Reuven is showing the partner someone else’s money? (This shaylah will, IY”H, be discussed in a future article.) 2. Is there a problem of ribbis?

Reuven may rent the money because he does not have the right to spend it; rather, he must return it intact. Therefore, the transaction is a she’eilah and not a halva’ah, and there is no ribbis prohibition.

We will discuss the halachos of ribbis at a different time, I”YH. For the rest of this article, we will focus on the halachos of sho’el, someone who borrows an item that will itself be returned.

RESPONSIBILITIES OF A BORROWER

In general, someone who borrows an item becomes fully responsible for its welfare. As the Torah says, if he borrowed an animal and it became injured or died, the borrower must repay, even if he was not negligent.

I borrow a friend’s laptop computer for a business trip. I take exceptional care of the laptop since it is someone else’s property, even making certain to put it in the hotel safe when not using it. While I am away one day, a fire breaks out in the hotel and the computer is irreparably damaged. Although the damage was accidental, I am still obligated to pay for the computer.

But why should I be obligated if something happened that was beyond my control? The damage was no fault of mine!

Although the details of hilchos sho’el are basically a g’zeiras hakasuv, a declaration of the Torah, there is a rationale behind these rules. When I borrow something, I receive a pure gain from the transaction since I can use the item without giving the lender anything in exchange. Therefore, the Torah obligates the borrower to ensure that the owner receives his item back, even when the borrower is not responsible for the damage (see Gemara Bava Metzia 94b; Shu”t HaRan #20).

We will later discuss two circumstances where the borrower is not responsible to compensate for the loss.

CAN I LIMIT MY RESPONSIBILITY?

Someone wants to borrow my car, but does not want to be responsible for anything that might happen to it. According to halacha, while he is borrowing my car, he is responsible if it is stolen, suffers damage from a storm or fire or is hit by another car.

Can we arrange to absolve the borrower from this responsibility?

Yes. The two parties can agree to limit the borrower’s responsibility to whatever level they are comfortable with. This is referred to as a tnai she’b’mamon, condition included in a business agreement, which is fully valid in halacha. The Mishnah states that a borrower may stipulate that he is not responsible to pay for damages even if he is negligent (Bava Metzia 94a).
SOME INTERESTING SHAILOS

Someone once asked me the following shaylah. Their yeshivah bachur son traveled back and forth between their hometown and his yeshivah, often transporting automobiles for a frum car dealer. Each side considered this an ideal arrangement – the son had free transportation and the dealer had his shipping needs serviced very inexpensively. However, I pointed out that although the son is not considered a “sho’el” (who is responsible even for accidental damage, as explained above) since the dealer also gains from the arrangement, the son is still responsible for the total value of the car if he acts negligently. (Whether he is responsible to replace the car if it is stolen is dependent upon details that are beyond the scope of this article.)

Needless to say, his parents were rather concerned about their son assuming this level of financial responsibility. I explained that their son should negotiate with the dealer exactly how much responsibility he was accepting.

My wife was once asked to transport a large sum of money on a journey. Although she was doing the other person a complete favor, she would still be responsible for negligence. We told the person that she was assuming no responsibility whatsoever, and he agreed. Since we made this condition, she could not be held responsible no matter what happened.

Similarly, someone who borrows an item may specify to the owner that he is not assuming full responsibility for the borrowed item, and this absolves him if the owner agrees. Of course, the owner may not want to lend the item if the borrower does not assume full responsibility.

DOES THIS ARRANGEMENT NEED TO BE IN WRITING?

No, an oral agreement or understanding between the two parties is perfectly sufficient. The main advantage of a written agreement is to prevent misunderstanding or disagreement about the terms of the agreement.

But one second! Doesn’t the Torah require the sho’el, borrower, to pay for damages? How can the Torah’s instructions be pushed aside?

There is a major difference between the financial rules established by the Torah and its prohibitions. In business arrangements, two parties may create their own terms. Thus, an employer can agree to give his employee benefits beyond what halacha requires and be obligated to provide them. Similarly, when a couple marries, the husband assumes responsibility to support his wife. However, if the two choose to marry without this responsibility, they may do so (Gemara Kiddushin 19b).

However, two parties cannot make a business agreement that violates a Torah prohibition. Therefore, one cannot create a contract that charges interest, ignores the Shmittah time limit for collecting debts or authorizes using non-halachic courts for adjudication. These cases all involve Torah-ordained prohibitions, and therefore cannot be eliminated by a “deal” between the two parties.

WHEN IS A BORROWER NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR DAMAGE?

I mentioned above that there are two circumstances whereby the borrower is absolved from paying for the damage. The Gemara calls these two cases “be’alav imo” literally, “the owner is with him,” and “meisah machmas melacha,” which means “the loaned animal died because of the work.”

The basis of each of these two pturim, absolutions, is totally different and both need to be explained.

BE’ALAV IMO

Be’alav imo means that if the lender was working for the borrower when the pikadon was borrowed, the sho’el is absolved from paying for any subsequent damage. According to the halacha, this applies only if the owner was working when the she’eilah began. However, if the owner began work after the loan was begun, the borrower is fully responsible (Bava Metzia 94a).

This rule sounds very strange. What is its rationale?

We generally divide mitzvos into two categories, bein adam lachaveiro, mitzvos between us and our fellow men, and bein adam laMakom, mitzvos between us and Hashem. We are not surprised when mitzvos bein adam laMakom are beyond our comprehension and based on gezeiras hakasuv, decrees of Hashem in His Torah. For example, we never question why the Torah commanded holding an esrog on Sukkos and not a lemon – we know that the Torah’s mitzvos are beyond our comprehension. Nor do we ask why the flimsy schach on a sukkah must come from plant growth. We understand that these halachos are gezeiras hakasuv.

However when we it comes to bein adam lachaveiro, we expect to understand them. Indeed, most halachos of civil law are very comprehendible and include relatively few halachos based on gezeiras hakasuv. However, there are some exceptions and the rule of be’alav imo is one of them. The Torah states that under these circumstances, the borrower need not pay, even though we cannot comprehend the difference.

Nevertheless, several rationales have been suggested for the law of be’alav imo. In other words, even though it is a gezeiras hakasuv, we can derive certain hashkafic concepts from these laws. However, we must realize that these rationale should not be considered as “reasons” for the mitzvah. After all, do we think that we can comprehend the reasons for Hashem’s mitzvos? As the Sefer HaChinuch explains, the words ta’am hamitzvah should be translated as the taste of a mitzvah, rather than the reason for a mitzvah. This is because we can never explain why Hashem gave us mitzvos. We can only suggest ideas that will help us grow while we observe the mitzvos that Hashem has granted!

Similarly, the ta’amim given to explain be’alav imo should be understood as tastes, ideas that illuminate these halachos.
That being said, we can now present a ta’am suggested for the law of be’alav imo. Some explain that since the owner is being employed by the borrower, the borrower does not assume that he is responsible for the item borrowed. Rather, he assumes that the owner is taking care of his own item (Chinuch, Mitzvah 60). Under these circumstances, the Torah does not require the borrower to pay for damage done to the loaned item.

MEISAH MACHMAS MELACHA

The other occasion when a borrower is absolved from paying is “meisah machmas melacha,” literally, “the loaned animal died because of the work.” This is based on a logical concept that if the borrower had express permission to use the borrowed item for a certain purpose, he should not be penalized for utilizing it for that purpose (Tosafos; Nimukei Yosef).

There is an alternative explanation for meisah machmas melacha that contends that the borrower has the right to assume that a borrowed item can withstand normal wear and tear. If the pikadon did not withstand normal use, then we presume that it was inferior and the borrower is not responsible for the loss (Ramban; Sma 340:3).

A LOANED CAT

The Gemara discusses a strange case of someone who borrowed a cat to rid his house of unwanted mice. A din Torah was called when the mice killed the cat instead and the mash’eil claimed that the borrower must pay him for his loss! The Gemara concludes that the borrower is exempt because there must have been something wrong with a cat that was overpowered by mice (Bava Metzia 97a).

The following case is discussed by poskim. The residents of a threatened town borrowed weapons to defend themselves. They were defeated and the weapons were confiscated. Must they pay for the weapons?

The poskim dispute this issue. Some rule that they are exempt because the items were borrowed specifically for use in self-defense and the loss is categorized as meisah machmas melacha. Others contend that they are obligated to pay since the weapons were not inferior (Sma 340:8 and Shach ad loc.).

I was recently asked a shailah about someone who borrowed a power saw that was damaged during use. Is this considered meisah machmas melacha?

The halachic issue is to determine whether the borrower used the saw in a normal fashion, in which case he would be exempt from paying, or whether he perhaps abused the appliance, in which case he is obligated.

A FEW UNFAMILIAR HALACHOS ABOUT BORROWING

I have discovered that there are several halachos of which even knowledgeable people are unaware.

If I borrowed an item for a specific purpose, may I use it for something else?

In most instances, the answer is no. It is prohibited to use the pikadon for a different job without permission, even for a job that involves less wear and tear than the task for which it was borrowed (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 341:7). Some poskim permit using the pikadon for a job that is clearly less taxing on the tool, but all agree that I may not use it for work that might be equally stressful (Taz 340:1; Sma 341:20).

RETURNING THE BORROWED ITEM

Many people are unaware that a borrowed item is not considered returned until the lender knows about it (Choshen Mishpat 340:8). Therefore, if I borrow a hammer from my neighbor and return it to his house, I have not discharged my obligation until he knows that it has been returned. If it becomes damaged in the interim, I am still responsible to pay!

I borrowed a sefer from someone. When I came to return it, his children told me that the owner had gone on vacation. Consequently, I am responsible for the sefer until he finds out that I have returned it to his house.

BORROWING COLLATERAL

Reuven borrowed money from a non-Jewish bank and placed a valuable painting in the bank’s vault as collateral. Knowing that the painting was worth far more than the loan, Shimon asked Reuven if he could borrow some money from the bank, using the painting as collateral for his loan as well. Both Reuven and the bank agreed. Subsequently, a massive explosion at the bank destroyed the painting. According to secular law, neither Reuven nor Shimon were obligated to pay back the loans since the collateral was not returned. (Incidentally, according to halacha, if the lender was Jewish, he would be obligated to repay the loan since the lender was not at fault for the loss.)

However, Reuven wants Shimon to compensate him for the painting, claiming that Shimon benefited from his loss. Reuven claims that Shimon “borrowed” the painting as collateral, since without it Shimon could not obtain his loan. Therefore, Shimon should have to compensate Reuven since he borrowed an item that he did not return. Does Reuven have any basis for his claim?

According to halacha, Shimon has no responsibility to compensate Reuven. The painting was in the bank’s vault because of Reuven’s loan, not because of Shimon’s (Mordechai, Bava Metzia #371; Rama, Choshen Mishpat 340:1).

However, if Reuven had never borrowed from the bank, but Shimon had used the painting as collateral, Shimon would indeed be responsible for it.

We have touched on some of the halachos involved when borrowing. This certainly indicates how much we have to know in order to observe them correctly. We should always bear in mind that the Gemara advises someone who wants to become a great tzaddik to ensure that he is highly familiar with all the halachos of damages!

Bedeviled by Stirring Events – or Some Insights on the Melacha of Losh

I  was recently asked the following question:

“My daughter came home from school telling us that she was taught that we cannot make deviled eggs on Shabbos because adding mustard and shaping them is considered ‘kneading’ the yolks. But I remember my mother always mixed hard boiled eggs with minced onion and oil on Shabbos morning shortly before the meal. Could my mother have been wrong?”

As our readership is aware, the Torah prohibits melachos on Shabbos not because they are taxing, but because these activities are significant and important (Gemara Bava Kamma 2a). As the Yerushalmi relates, after toiling for three and a half years to understand all the prohibited activities of Shabbos, Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish concluded that each of the 39 major melachos (avos) has at least 39 sub-categories, called tolados, which are also prohibited min haTorah (Yerushalmi, Shabbos, beginning of 7:2). As is clear from the passage, these eminent scholars realized that the Torah prohibited these types of significant activity. As Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch notes, the Torah does not prohibit avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies purpose and accomplishment (Commentary to Shemos 20:10).

One of the melacha activities prohibited on Shabbos is losh, kneading (Mishnah Shabbos 73a). Although building the Mishkan did not involve kneading dough, dying the cloth used in its construction required kneading a thick paste (see Rashi, Shabbos 73a and Gemara Shabbos 156a). (Some Rishonim contend that we derive forbidden melachos also from activities performed for the service of the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash, and not only from the Mishkan’s construction. According to these opinions, the melacha of kneading could be derived from the meal offerings of the Mishkan that involved the kneading of dough [Rav Hai Gaon, quoted in introduction to Maasei Rokei’ach].)

WHAT IS LOSH?

The concept of losh is to combine fine powders or similar small items into a unit by adding liquid (Shevisas HaShabas). Thus, mixing clay for pottery, or cement and sand into concrete, violate the Torah prohibition of losh (see Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 8:16; Rashi, Shabbos 74b). Similarly, mixing oatmeal or reconstituting instant mashed potatoes violates the Torah prohibition of losh (in addition to whatever prohibitions of cooking may be involved).

Similarly, preparing certain food items on Shabbos might fall under the rubric of losh. For example, the Gemara discusses how one may mix bran with water to feed one’s animals. Although bran and water do not form dough, this is nevertheless prohibited since the bran sticks together (Shabbos 155b).

The Tannayim dispute whether one may add water to bran on Shabbos to feed one’s animals, Rebbe prohibiting because he feels that this constitutes a Torah violation of losh, whereas Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Yehudah maintains that adding water to bran involves only a rabbinic prohibition and is permitted in order to feed one’s animals if performed in an indirect way. This introduces a new concept in the laws of losh – that one may perform a rabbinically prohibited activity in an indirect way in order to prepare food or feed on Shabbos (Shabbos 155b- 156a). Performing a prohibited activity in an indirect way is called a shinui or kil’achar yad (literally, using the back of one’s hand), and is usually prohibited miderabbanan. However, under extenuating circumstances, Chazal relaxed the prohibition.

Losh applies only when mixing fine items that stick together to form a unit. It does not apply when adding liquid to large items even if they stick together, since they do not combine into one item (Taz, Orach Chayim 321:12). Therefore, one may use oil or mayonnaise to make a potato salad or tuna salad on Shabbos if the pieces of potato or tuna are large enough to prevent the salad appearing like a single mass.

BATTER VERSUS DOUGH

The Gemara implies that there is a halachic difference between a belilah rakkah, the consistency of batter, and belilah avah, the consistency of dough. By batter we mean a mix that does hold together, so it is not a liquid, yet is fluid enough that one can pour it from one bowl to another (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 58:9). Creating a batter involves only a rabbinic violation, whereas mixing a consistency like dough, which is thick enough that one cannot pour it, has stricter rules, often involving a Torah violation.

If the mix does not hold together at all, then one may mix it without any concerns because it is considered a liquid (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 58:9).

DEVILING THE EGGS

Based on the above discussion, it would appear that one may not mix egg salad or deviled eggs on Shabbos without a shinui, and possibly not even with a shinui. The mix created when making these foods cannot be poured, and therefore does not qualify as a “batter” but as “dough,” which may entail a Torah prohibition of mixing on Shabbos. We may usually not perform Torah prohibitions with a shinui on Shabbos to prepare food.

However, a standard appetizer in many parts of Europe for the Shabbos day meal was to stir together hard-boiled eggs, minced onion and schmaltz, a dish called “eggs and onions” that required preparation immediately before serving. Was it permitted to mix “eggs and onions” on Shabbos or did it violate the prohibition against kneading on Shabbos since the finished product was mashed egg and onion held together with fat? Although it would seem to be prohibited to prepare this food on Shabbos, this food was commonly prepared every Shabbos morning prior to serving. Does this mean that all these observant Jews were violating the Torah’s command? When we consider that this was the standard appetizer eaten by thousands of Jewish households every Shabbos for hundreds of years, it is difficult to imagine that millions of eggs and onions were prepared in violation of the laws of Shabbos!

Several halachic authorities raise this question, providing a variety of approaches to explain why one may blend eggs and onions on Shabbos. Could the reason to allow this apply to contemporary devilled eggs or egg salad?

Some contend that this mixing was permitted only when the pieces of egg and onion were both large enough to prevent the mix from having a dough-like consistency, but rather looked more like large pieces stuck together. However, the prevalent approach was to chop the eggs and onions into a very fine consistency, in which case the above-mentioned leniency was not applicable.

Other authorities permitted mixing and stirring them together only with a shinui, although apparently the prevalent custom was to mix it without any shinui at all.

RAV SHELOMOH KLUGER’S APPROACH

Rav Shelomoh Kluger, a great luminary of Nineteenth Century Poland, proposed a highly original reasoning to legitimize the preparing of the eggs and onions on Shabbos. Regarding various halachos of the Torah, predominantly the laws of tumah and taharah, only seven substances are considered liquids — wine, blood, olive oil, milk, dew, honey and water. Rav Kluger contended that the halachos of losh are also dependent on the use of one of these seven liquids to create the “dough” (Shu”t HaElef Lecha Shelomoh, Orach Chayim #139). According to this novel approach, no losh prohibition is involved if one uses mayonnaise or any oil other than olive oil, nor if one makes dough on Shabbos using only juice other than grape juice.

We should note that following this line of reasoning, not only may one prepare the famous eggs and onions mixture, but one could also prepare devilled eggs or egg salad on Shabbos provided one does not use olive oil as the liquid. Although some may prefer use of olive oil for its cholesterol and other medical benefits, this would not justify violating the laws of Shabbos.

However, Rav Kluger’s approach is not without its detractors. For one thing, as he himself points out, his approach disputes the statement of a highly-respected earlier authority, the Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 321:12), who contends that losh is violated when one mixes foods together with goose schmaltz (a common ingredient in European homes in his era). This demonstrates clearly that any substance that causes items to stick together violates losh, at least according to some widely-accepted opinions. For the most part, later authorities have not accepted Rav Kluger’s contention limiting losh to the “seven liquids.”

Rav Shelomoh Kluger applied a second reason to permit the preparation of eggs and onions on Shabbos. He theorized that losh only applies to the earth itself or to items that grow from the ground — thus precluding eggs from the prohibition of losh. Although this approach only resolves the losh consideration germane to the eggs in the mixture but not to the onions, Rav Kluger further contended that the onions are also exempt from losh since the eggs are the main ingredient. He maintained that when mixing several items, of which losh applies only to some, halacha considers only the major ingredient and ignores the rest (Shu”t HaElef Lecha Shelomoh, Orach Chayim #139).

This second approach of Rav Shelomoh Kluger is also not without its detractors. Both the contention that losh applies only to items that grow from the ground, and the further supposition that one ignores the lesser item are challenged by later authorities (see Tzitz Eliezer 11:36:3, quoting Yad Yosef).

OTHER APPROACHES

Other reasons are quoted to permit making “eggs and onions” on Shabbos, including a suggestion that there is no losh prohibition to stir in an ingredient added for taste even if it indeed causes the food to hold together. (This position is quoted by the Tzitz Eliezer 11:36 in the name of a great scholar; however, the Tzitz Eliezer rejects the argument.) According to this approach, one might argue that one may make deviled eggs on Shabbos since the mustard is primarily added for flavor, although one could argue alternatively that one’s intent is to create a consistent filling, which is losh.

Others permit the mixing of eggs and onions because they do not form into a gush, that is, a single unit (Shu”t Be’er Moshe 6:44). According to this reasoning, deviling eggs is forbidden since one is indeed forming units of seasoned mashed egg yolk.

RAV SHELOMOH ZALMAN AUERBACH’S APPROACH

Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach presented a different reason to permit mixing “eggs and onions” on Shabbos, which requires a small introduction. At the time of the Gemara, neither Post nor General Mills had yet cornered the market on breakfast cereal, and people were forced to prepare their own breakfast. The Cheerios of the day involved mixing a specialty flour called kali, made from toasted kernels, with oil, water and salt. The Gemara quotes an opinion that permits mixing kali on Shabbos provided one uses a minor shinui while doing so (Shabbos 155b). Several authorities question why the Gemara is so lenient in this instance (Nishmas Odom; Biyur Halacha). Allow me to explain the basis of their concern:

Usually, a shinui may be used on Shabbos in only one of two circumstances:

1. To prepare food that without the shinui involves only a rabbinic prohibition.

2. To prepare the food in a radically different way than it is usually prepared. An example of the latter method is that although one may not chop items fine on Shabbos, one may crush them with the handle of a knife. Since this is a radical departure from the usual method of mashing items with mortar and pestle or other grinding implements, Chazal permitted crushing food this way (Shibolei HaLeket #92, based on Gemara Shabbos 141a).

Thus we are faced with the following anomaly: The Gemara permits mixing kali on Shabbos, seemingly permitting a Torah prohibition of losh by means of a minor deviation from the normal method of preparing this food. This should not be permitted on Shabbos.

The Biyur Halacha responds to this question with two different novel approaches to explain why this is permitted:

1. Mixing a food that is already cooked or toasted and ready to eat does not violate the prohibition of losh. Since these kernels are not used for bread, but are ready to eat after mixing them, this mixing is not considered the prohibited melacha of losh, but is to be treated no different min haTorah from any other preparing of food. Although Chazal prohibited this preparation because it looks like kneading, it is permitted with a shinui as are many other food preparations.

2. The Biyur Halacha suggests an alternative approach: there is no violation of losh while one is eating. This is similar to a concept found by other melachos, notably selecting and grinding, that permits performing these activities immediately before consuming them.

This approach has its detractors, since no early authorities note that this lenience applies to losh, and logically there is a big distinction between selecting and grinding, which are processes that are absolutely essential to normal eating, and kneading, which is not essential (see Magen Avraham 321:24).

RETURNING TO EGGS AND ONIONS

Based on both approaches of the Biyur Halacha, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach notes that preparing eggs and onions should be permitted because this food cannot be prepared before Shabbos and will become ruined if not prepared shortly before eating. (A similar approach to explain the custom of mixing eggs and onions is presented by an earlier authority, the Tehillah LeDavid 321:25).

In addition, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach reasons that losh is a process that one does while eating since one mixes food together in one’s mouth (Shulchan Shelomoh 321:16). This author does not understand the last statement of Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, since the processing of food that takes place in one’s mouth, chewing, reduces food to small particles and does not combine small particles into larger ones, which is the essence of losh.

According to Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach’s approach, preparing “eggs and onions” requires a shinui, meaning that one should add the ingredients to the bowl in an inverted order than one usually does, and should also preferably stir the mix in an unusual fashion, such as not in normal circular strokes but with alternative crisscross motions instead.

However, the approaches mentioned earlier permit mixing eggs and onions without any shinui at all. When reading later halachic works, one finds many poskim who feel that one should avoid preparing eggs and onions on Shabbos, and at a minimum certainly not without a shinui, whereas others are suspicious of those who question such a time-hallowed practice (Be’er Moshe; Tzitz Eliezer).

It is also noteworthy that the first approach presented by the Biyur Halacha should permit not only the famous “eggs and onions” that were an essential part of Jewish cuisine for hundreds of years, but also preparing either egg salad or deviled eggs on Shabbos. Furthermore, according to the second approach one would be permitted to prepare them immediately before the meal just as one may select immediately before the meal. In both instances, one would need to use a shinui of mixing the ingredients in a different order and not stirring with the usual circular motions.

Where does that leave our deviled eggs or egg salad on Shabbos? As in all areas of halacha, one should consult with one’s posek how to prepare these items on Shabbos. The goal of this discussion is to present the background of the halachic issues that form the basis for the varying piskei halacha on this issue.

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

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