Nu, so, what is new?

The laws of Chodosh

By Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: New mitzvah?!

“When I was young, I do
not think I ever heard about a prohibition called chodosh, or that
something was yoshon. These days, I am constantly hearing these terms.
Do we now have a new mitzvah?”

Question #2: New\Old Visitor

“We have decided to stay
permanently in Eretz Yisrael, but we visit the United States a few times
a year. Do we need to be concerned about chodosh when we visit?”

The Basics

Before addressing the issue
underlying both questions, which is whether the prohibition of chodosh
applies outside Eretz Yisrael, we must first study some essential
details of the mitzvah. The Torah teaches in parshas Emor:

“Bread, sweet flour made from
toasted kernels, or the toasted kernels themselves, may not be eaten until that
very day – until you bring the offering to your G-d. This is a law that you
must always observe throughout your generations in all your dwelling places” (Vayikra
23:14). “That very day” refers to the second day of Pesach, the day that
the korban omer, the “offering” mentioned in the pasuk, is
brought. (This is the same day that we begin counting the omer, a
practice we continue until Shavuos.)

The Mishnah (Menachos
70a) explains that this mitzvah applies only to the five species that we
usually categorize as grain, which Rashi (Pesachim 35a) defines
as wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye. The Gemara (Menachos 70b)
demonstrates that the laws of chodosh apply to the same varieties of
grain that can become chometz.

What Permits the New Grain?

We should note that the Torah
mentions two different factors that permit the new grain – it “may not be eaten
until that very day – until you bring the offering to your G-d.” This seems to
be a bit contradictory. What permits the new grain, the day or the offering
that transpires in the course of the day?

Will It be Brought?

The Gemara (Menachos 68a)
concludes that it depends on whether a korban omer will be offered that
particular year. Until the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, a korban
was brought annually, and offering this korban permitted the
new grain, thereby fulfilling “may not be eaten… until you bring the offering
to your G-d.” After the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, it is the day
that permits the new grain.

There is a further question:
When there is no korban omer at what point during the day does the new
grain become permitted?

The Gemara quotes a
dispute concerning this fact, whether, is it the beginning of the day or its
end. The Gemara concludes that even those who permit the new grain at
the beginning of the day, this is only min haTorah, but they agree that miderabbanan
the new grain is not permitted until the day ends (Sukkah 41b).

“New” Grain versus
“Old” Grain

This new grain is called chodosh,
literally, new. Once Pesach passes, the grain is called yoshon,
, even though it may have been planted only a few days before. The
promotion from chodosh to yoshon transpires automatically on the second
day of Pesach – all the existing chodosh becomes yoshon
grain on that day, even that which is still growing. The only requirement is
that by then the grain has taken root. Thus, designating the grain as
“old” does not mean that it is either wizened or rancid. Grain
planted in the late winter or early spring often becomes permitted well before
it even completed growing. On the other hand, grain that took root after
the second day of Pesach is categorized as “new” grain that
may not be eaten until the second day of the next Pesach, the following

How Do We Know That It Is
Newly Rooted?

Since most of us spend little
time subterraneanly, how are we to know when the newly planted seeds decided to
take root? This question is already debated by the Tanna’im. The halachic
authorities dispute whether we assume that seeds take root three days after
planting or not until fourteen days after planting. If we assume that they take
root in only three days, then grain planted on the thirteenth of Nisan
is permitted after the sixteenth. This is because the remaining part of the
thirteenth day counts as the first day, and the fifteenth day of Nisan
(the first day of Pesach) is the third day, and we therefore assume that
the new grain rooted early enough to become permitted. However, grain that was
planted on the fourteenth, Erev Pesach, is forbidden until the following
year (Terumas Hadeshen #151; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 293:4,
5; Aruch Hashulchan).

According to those who conclude
that it takes fourteen days to take root, the grain that is planted on the
thirteenth does not become permitted until the next year. In addition, any
grain planted on the third of Nisan or afterwards will not be permitted
until the coming year, whereas that planted on the second of Nisan
becomes permitted. We count the second of Nisan as the first day, which
makes the fifteenth of Nisan the fourteenth day, and the grain took root
early enough so that the sixteenth of Nisan permits it (Nekudos
; Dagul Meirevavah; Shu”t Noda Biyehudah 2:Orach

What’s New in Chutz

Now that we understand some
basic information about chodosh, we can discuss whether this mitzvah
applies to grain growing outside Eretz Yisrael. Following the general
rule that agricultural mitzvos, mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, apply
only in Eretz Yisrael, we should assume that this mitzvah does not apply
to grain that grew in chutz la’aretz. Indeed, this is the position of
the Tanna Rabbi Yishmael (Kiddushin 37a). However, Rabbi Eliezer
disagrees, contending that the mitzvah applies also in chutz la’aretz.

This dispute is based on
differing interpretations of an unusual verse. When closing its instructions
concerning the mitzvah of chodosh, the Torah concludes: This is
a law that you must always observe throughout your generations in all your
dwelling places
.” Why did the Torah add the last words, “in all your
dwelling places”? Would we think that a mitzvah applies only in some
dwellings and not in others?

The Tanna’im mentioned
above dispute how we are to understand these unusual words. Rabbi Eliezer
explains that “in all your dwelling places” teaches that this prohibition, chodosh,
is an exception to the rule of mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz and applies to
all your dwelling places – even those outside Eretz Yisrael.
Thus, although we have a usual rule that mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz
apply only in Eretz Yisrael, the Torah itself taught that chodosh
is an exception and applies even in chutz la’aretz.

Rabbi Yishmael explains the words
“in all your dwelling places” to mean the mitzvah applies only after the land
was conquered and settled. As a result, he contends that chodosh indeed
follows the general rule of agricultural mitzvos and applies only in Eretz

The New Planting

When a farmer plants his crops
depends on many factors, including what variety or strain he is planting,
climate and weather conditions, and even perhaps his own personal schedule. At
times in history, even non-Jewish religious observances were considerations, as
we see from the following incident:

The Rosh reports that,
in his day, whether most of the new grain was chodosh or yoshon
depended on when the gentiles’ religious seasons fell out. Apparently, in his
day sometimes the gentiles planted well before Pesach, and in those
years there was no chodosh concern, since the new grain became permitted
while it was still growing. However, there were years in which the gentiles
refrained from planting until much later, and in those years the new grain was chodosh
(Shu”t HaRosh 2:1). In addition, they had a practice not to plant during
the xian holiday season that they call Lent. Sometimes Lent fell during Pesach
and the xians planted before, and sometimes it fell earlier and they planted
after Pesach, in which case there was a chodosh problem. We therefore
find the rather anomalous situation in which the Rosh needed to find out
exactly when the gentiles observed their religious month to know whether the
grain was chodosh or yoshon.

What is New in Agriculture?

But one minute — the Rosh
lived in Europe, first in Germany and then in Spain. Why was he concerned about
chodosh? Should this not be an agricultural mitzvah that does not apply
to produce grown outside of Eretz Yisrael? From the citation above, we
see that the Rosh ruled that chodosh is prohibited even in chutz
. The Rosh is not alone. Indeed, most, but not all, of the Rishonim
and poskim conclude that chodosh applies to all grain regardless
of where it grows, since we see from the Gemara that chodosh was
practiced in Bavel, even though it is outside Eretz Yisrael (Menachos
68b). However, notwithstanding that the Rosh, the Tur and the
Shulchan Aruch all prohibit chodosh grown in chutz la’aretz,
the traditional approach among Ashkenazic Jewry was to permit the use of new
grain. Why were they lenient when most authorities rule like Rabbi Eliezer that
chodosh is prohibited even outside Eretz Yisrael?

Later authorities suggest
several reasons to permit consuming the new grain.

Doubly Doubtful

Many authorities permitted the
new grain because the new crop may have been planted early enough to be
permitted, and, in addition, the possibility exists that the available grain is
from a previous crop year, which is certainly permitted. This approach accepts
that chodosh applies equally in chutz la’aretz as it does in Eretz
, but contends that when one is uncertain whether the grain
available is chodosh or yoshon, one can rely that it is yoshon.
Because of this double doubt, called a sefeik sefeika, many major
authorities permitted people to consume the available grain (Rema, Yoreh
293). However, we should note that this heter is dependent on
available information, and these authorities agree that when one knows that the
grain being used is chodosh one may not consume it.

The Rosh accepted this
approach, and was careful to monitor the planting seasons so as to ascertain
each year whether the grain was planted in a time that caused a chodosh
issue. In years that there was a chodosh problem, he refrained from
eating the new grain – however, it is interesting to note, that he was
extremely careful not to point out his concerns to others. He further notes
that his rebbe, the Maharam, followed the same practice, but said
nothing about this to others. Thus, we see that some early gedolim were
strict for themselves about observing chodosh but said nothing to others
out of concern that they would be unable to observe chodosh. This
practice was followed in the contemporary world by such great luminaries as Rav
Yaakov Kamenetsky, who was personally stringent not to eat chodosh, but
was careful not to tell anyone, even family members, who followed the lenient
approaches that I will soon share.

Another Heter

Other authorities permitted the
chutz la’aretz grain, relying on the minority of early poskim who
treat chodosh as a mitzvah that applies only in Eretz Yisrael (Taz;
Aruch Hashulchan
). This is based on a Gemara that states that when
something has not been ruled definitively, one may rely on a minority opinion
under extenuating circumstances (Niddah 9b).

This dispute then embroils one
in a different issue: When the Gemara rules that under extenuating
circumstances one may rely on a minority opinion, is this true only when
dealing with a rabbinic prohibition, or may one do so even when dealing with a
potential Torah prohibition. The Taz and Aruch Hashulchan, who
permitted chodosh for this reason, conclude that one may follow a
minority opinion even when dealing with a potential Torah prohibition. The Shach
rejects this approach, and concludes that one must be stringent when one knows
that the grain is chodosh (Nekudos Hakesef. See also his Pilpul
Behanhagos Horaah,
located after Yoreh Deah 242; cf. the Bach’s essay
on the same topic, published in the back of the Tur Yoreh Deah, where he
rules leniently on this issue.)

The Bach’s Heter

Another halachic basis
to permit use of the new grain is that chodosh applies only to grain
that grows in a field owned by a Jew, and not to grain grown in a field owned
by a non-Jew. Since most fields are owned by gentiles, one can be lenient when
one does not know the origin of the grain and assume that it was grown in a
gentile’s field, and it is therefore exempt from chodosh laws. This last
approach, often referred to simply as “the Bach’s heter,” is the basis
upon which most Ashkenazic Jewry relied.

We may note that the Rosh,
quoted above, rejects this heter, and that Tosafos (Kiddushin 37a
end of s.v. kol), the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch also
reject this approach. Similarly, the above-quoted responsum from the Rosh
explicitly rejects this logic and contends that chodosh applies to grain
grown in a gentile’s field.

Nevertheless, common custom
accepted this the heter that grain grown in a non-Jew’s field is exempt
from chodosh; even many gedolei Yisroel accepted this approach.
The Bach notes that many of the greatest luminaries of early Ashkenazic
Jewry, including Rav Shachna and the Maharshal, were lenient regarding chodosh
use in their native Europe. He shares that as a young man he advanced his
theory that chodosh does not exist in a field owned by a gentile to the
greatest scholars of that generation, and that they all accepted it.

The Bach himself further
contends that although the Rosh in his responsum rejected this approach,
the Rosh subsequently changed his mind, and in his halachic code,
which was written after his responsa (see Tur, Choshen Mishpat, end of
Chapter (72, he omits mention that the prohibition of chodosh
applies to gentile-grown grain.

Thus, those residing in chutz
have a right to follow the accepted practice, as indeed did many,
if not most, of the gedolei Yisrael. However, others, such as the Mishnah
, rule strictly about this issue.

Until fairly recently, many rabbonim
felt that those who are strict about the prohibition should observe the law of chodosh
discreetly. Some contend that one should do so because they feel that observing
chodosh has the status of chumrah, and the underlying principle
when observing any chumrah is hatznei’ah leches – they should be
observed modestly. (See Michtav Mei’eliyahu Volume 3, page 294.) Others
feel that the practice of being lenient was based on an extenuating
circumstance that is no longer valid, since yoshon is fairly available
in most large Jewish communities, and that, on the contrary, we should let
people be aware so that they can observe the mitzvah.

North American Hechsherim

The assumption of virtually all
hechsherim is that unless mentioned otherwise, they rely on the halachic
opinion of the Bach. Many decades ago, Rav Aharon Soloveichek pioneered
his own personal hechsher that did not follow either the heter of
the Bach or that of the Taz and the Aruch Hashulchan. He
further insisted that the yeshivos that he served as Rosh Yeshivah
serve exclusively food that did not rely on these heterim. Today, there
are a few other hechsherim that follow this approach, whereas the
majority of North American hechsherim accept the heter of the Bach.

With this background, we can
now address the first question that began our article. “When I was young,
I do not think I ever heard about a prohibition called chodosh, or that
something was yoshon. These days, I am constantly hearing the term. Do
we now have a new mitzvah?”

The answer is that the mitzvah
is not new. When you were young, most halachic authorities either felt
that one could rely on the opinion of the Bach, or felt that one should
keep the topic quiet. Today, many feel that one may and should advertise the
availability of yoshon products.

In addition, there is
interesting agricultural background to this question. At one point in history,
the flour commonly sold in the United States was from the previous year’s crop,
and was always yoshon. Rav Yaakov used to monitor the situation, and
when the United States no longer followed this practice, he began to freeze
flour so that he would have a supply during the winter and spring months when chodosh
is a concern.

In the spring and early summer,
there is no concern about chodosh in the United States, since all fresh
grain products then available became permitted on the sixteenth of Nisan.
Usually, the earliest chodosh products begin coming to market is
midsummer, and some products do not appear until the fall.

Visitors from Abroad

At this point, we can begin to
answer the second question: “We have decided to stay permanently in Eretz
, but we visit the States a few times a year. Do we need to be
concerned about chodosh when we visit?”

As I mentioned above, someone who lives in chutz la’aretz has the halachic right not to be concerned about observing chodosh on grain that grows in chutz la’aretz. The question is whether someone who has moved to Eretz Yisrael where the prevailing custom is to be stringent, and is now visiting chutz la’aretz has the same right. This matter is disputed, and I have discussed it with many poskim, most of whom felt that one should be machmir.

In Conclusion

In explaining the reason for
this mitzvah, Rav Hirsch notes that one of man’s greatest enemies is success,
for at that moment man easily forgets his Creator and views himself as master
of his own success and his own destiny. For this reason, the Torah created
several mitzvos whose goal is to remind and discipline us to always recognize Hashem‘s
role. Among these is the mitzvah of chodosh, wherein we are forbidden
from consuming the new grain until the offering of the korban omer,
which thereby reminds us that this year’s crop is here only because of Hashem
(Horeb, Section 2 Chapter 42). Whether one follows the Bach’s approach
to the chodosh laws or not, one should make note every time he sees a
reference to yoshon and chodosh to recognize that success is our
enemy, and that humility is our savior.