How Not to Desecrate Shabbos

Question:

“I was once told that the mekosheish was a frum Jew who did not really desecrate Shabbos. What does this mean?”

Foreword:

The story of the mekosheish, the man caught gathering wood on Shabbos, in Parshas Shelach, contains a host of conflicting and unusual midrashim. The story also serves as a springboard for many halachic and hashkafic issues. In order to appreciate fully these issues and midrashim, we must first analyze what the Torah tells us about this story, what Chazal derive from the pesukim, and some more halachic detail that is germane to the story. Then we will be in a position to discuss the question raised above.

The words of the Chumash

“When the Bnei Yisroel were in the Desert, they discovered a man gathering wood on Shabbos. Those who found the woodgatherer brought him to Moshe, Aharon and the rest of the community, and he was placed in custody, because it had not been explained what to do with him” (Bamidbar 15:32-34). The posuk then describes the punishment meted out to the woodgatherer. This was the first instance in history of beis din, a Jewish court, carrying out a ruling because someone defiled Shabbos.

Desecration of Shabbos is punishable by beis din only when many requirements are met, including that the perpetrator acknowledges that he is violating one of the 39 melachos of Shabbos, and that he accepts the punishment that the Torah metes out. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 41a) notes that the words of the Torah they found him gathering implies that the woodgatherer was caught in the middle of his act of violating Shabbos, and he continued desecrating Shabbos even after being warned that his action was liable to punishment by beis din.

Which melacha?

When the Mishnah lists the 39 melachos (Shabbos 73a), it does not include “gathering wood.” Indeed, which of the 39 melachos of Shabbos did the woodgatherer violate? Since the halacha requires that the desecrator be warned which melacha he is violating (see Shabbos 138a), this is important information to ascertain.

The Gemara (Shabbos 96b) cites three opinions concerning which melacha the mekosheish performed. According to Rav Yehudah, he carried through a public area on Shabbos. According to a second opinion, he was chopping down trees, thus violating the melacha of kotzeir, reaping, or, more accurately, disconnecting growing items from the ground. According to a third opinion, he violated the melacha of me’ameir, gathering things from where they grow or fall. This third opinion is also cited in the ancient commentary on Chumash, usually, but inaccurately, called the Targum Yonasan. Each of these three approaches requires some explanation.

Hotza’ah

One violates carrying on Shabbos min haTorah by transporting an item from a reshus harabim, an area meant for public use, into a reshus hayachid, an enclosed area, or vice versa. Alternatively, one can violate carrying by transporting an item more than four amos (about seven feet) through a reshus harabim. There are other details that need to be met that we will not discuss in this article.

However, this presents us with a conundrum. Since a desert is not a public thoroughfare or marketplace, carrying there should not violate Shabbos min haTorah. Rather, it should have the halachic status called a karmelis, an open area not meant for public use, in which carrying on Shabbos is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction, which would leave the mekosheish exempt from violating the Torah prohibition of carrying on Shabbos.

The explanation is found in the following passage of Gemara (Shabbos 6a-b):

What qualifies as a reshus harabim? A street, a large marketplace, or a side road that is open on both sides…. But why does the Tanna not include a desert, since a different beraisa states, “What qualifies as a reshus harabim? A street, a large marketplace, a side road or the desert.” Abaya explains that there is no contradiction between these two statements, the latter beraisa is discussing the era when the Jews were living in the desert, and the first statement is discussing today. In other words, although a desert is usually considered a karmelis, when a large population, such as the entire Jewish people, is living in a desert, it qualifies as a “public area” for Shabbos purposes. Once the desert path on which the Bnei Yisroel were traveling is considered a reshus harabim, every part of that desert is now considered a reshus harabim (Biur Halacha, 345:7). Therefore, when the mekosheish carried there, he was carrying in a reshus harabim and violating the laws of Shabbos min haTorah.

Kotzeir

A second opinion that we quoted above held that the mekosheish was chopping down trees and thereby performed the melacha of kotzeir, reaping. The Gemara explains that someone harvesting wood on Shabbos violates the melacha of kotzeir (Shabbos 73b). According to this approach, it is curious that the Torah describes the mekosheish as “gathering wood,” not as chopping down trees.

Me’ameir

The third opinion explained that the mekosheish violated me’ameir, the fourth of the 39 melachos, according to the order in the Mishnah. This melacha prohibits gathering together items from where they grow or fall naturally. The Rambam mentions cases of someone who gathered food, feed or kindling, and also mentions someone who created a figcake or strung together figs, as acts that violate me’ameir min haTorah. According to many early authorities, these last two cases refer only to someone who took figs from where they fell near the tree and pressed or strung them together (Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Shabbos 8:6, quoting Remach; Semag). However, many authorities disagree (Ma’aseh Rokei’ach; Nishmas Adam 13:1; Graz 340:15; Mishnah Berurah 340:38, and Eglei Tal 2:3 ff.), contending that, in these instances, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, one can violate me’ameir even when the fruit is not in its original location.

By the way, since people are less familiar with the melacha of me’ameir, someone could violate the melacha without realizing. For example, someone who collects fallen fruit in an orchard on Shabbos and throws them into a basket violates the melacha min haTorah (Mishnah Berurah 340:37).

The Gemara quotes a dispute whether me’ameir applies min haTorah to someone who gathers sea salt from its evaporation pits. Rava (or Rabbah, depending on a variant text) contends that this violates Shabbos min haTorah, whereas Abaya disagrees, contending that me’ameir is limited to items that grow from the ground (Shabbos 73b). There is a dispute among rishonim concerning how we rule. The Rambam rules that me’ameir is limited to items that grow from the ground (Hilchos Shabbos 8:5), whereas the Remach rules that me’ameir applies even to items that do not grow from the ground. Most later authorities conclude like the Rambam (Kesef Mishneh; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 340:9, Elya Rabbah, Graz and Mishnah Berurah; Chayei Adam 13:1; however, see Eglei Tal 2, who treats this matter as an unresolved dispute).

In conclusion, since lumber and kindling wood both grow from the ground, it is easy to understand that the mekosheish may have been violating the melacha of me’ameir by gathering fallen wood (Shabbos 96b).

We now understand the three opinions that the mekosheish may have been carrying in a reshus harabim, may have been cutting down trees, or may have been gathering fallen wood and violating the melacha of me’ameir. Now that we have discussed which melacha he violated, for a fuller understanding of the story we may want to attempt to identify who the mekosheish was!

Was he Tzelafchad?

The Torah (Bamidbar 27 1-7; 361-11) recounts the story of the daughters of Tzelafchad. Tzelafchad participated in the Exodus from Mitzrayim but did not make it to Eretz Yisroel. The posuk tells us that Tzelafchad left five daughters, but no sons. Rabbi Akiva, quoted in a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 99b), is of the opinion that the woodgatherer described above was Tzelafchad. To quote the passage of Gemara:

Our sages taught: The mekosheish was Tzelafchad, as the Torah says, And the Bnei Yisroel were in the Desert, and they found a man gathering wood on Shabbos,’ and later on it says, Our father died in the Desert. Just as the second verse refers to Tzelafchad, so does the first.’ This is the opinion of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira said to him, ‘Akiva, either way you will be punished for saying this. If you are correct, the Torah hid this information and you had the audacity to reveal it! And if you are incorrect, you are spreading lies about a tzadik!’”

Midrashim take sides

Our Gemara does not say explicitly whether Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira agreed with Rabbi Akiva or not. His criticism of Rabbi Akiva was for recounting the information. However, there are many midrashim that weigh in on this issue, some agreeing with Rabbi Akiva, including the Zohar, whereas others dispute his claim. For example, we find the following statement in Sifrei Zuta (Bamidbar 15, 32): “Rabbi Shimon said, ‘It is impossible to say that the mekosheish was Tzelafchad.’

The Yalkut Shimoni, a collection of reliable early midrashim, many of them no longer extant anywhere else, quotes a different tanna who also disagrees with Rabbi Akiva (#749).

Response of Rabbi Akiva

Although the Gemara does not cite a response of Rabbi Akiva to Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira’s criticism for revealing information that the Torah kept hidden, there is a Midrash that cites a very interesting approach, explaining more about Tzelafachad and what he wanted to accomplish. I will present this approach, as explained by the Maharsha — but first we need a rather extensive introduction.

Although Shabbos is a very strict mitzvah, the laws of Shabbos contain some very interesting rules. One of these rules is called melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, which translates literally as a work activity that is not necessary for itself, an expression that is almost meaningless in English. There are many different approaches how to explain this concept, variant ways to explain the words, and a dispute what the halachic status is, all of which combine to create a confusing discussion. I will endeavor to explain melacha she’einah tzericha legufah as it applies to our discussion.

To begin with, let us examine one of the approaches to explain the concept.

The 39 melachos of Shabbos are derived from the activities performed in the building of the Mishkan in the Desert. Notwithstanding the importance of constructing the Mishkan as quickly as possible, it was strictly prohibited to perform any aspect of its building on Shabbos. From this we see that whatever was necessary for building the Mishkan could not be done on Shabbos, and so we are being told, indirectly, what the Torah forbade on Shabbos.

Tosafos (Shabbos 94a s.v. Rabbi Shimon) explains melacha she’einah tzericha legufah that, not only do we derive the definitions of the 39 melachos from the construction of the Mishkan, but that the prohibition min haTorah includes only activities whose purpose is similar to the purpose for which this melacha activity was performed in the Mishkan. Here are some examples to clarify what Tosafos means.

One of the 39 melachos of Shabbos is gozeiz, shearing, which includes any act that removes something from a living creature. The construction of the Mishkan required obtaining wool, which requires shearing it off sheep; this is a classic example of gozeiz. In this instance, the purpose of the shearing is to obtain usable material that is removed from the creature.

The question we will now ask is whether the melacha is violated min haTorah when gozeiz is performed not for the purpose of using the material that is removed. For example, when someone receives a haircut or clips his nails, he is removing something from a living creature, but he is not interested in the hair (with the exception of someone harvesting hair to sell for wig manufacture) or the nails. Is having a haircut or trimming nails prohibited min haTorah on Shabbos under the heading of gozeiz, or is it prohibited only miderabbanan, and the Torah prohibition of gozeiz is violated only when someone “shears” something that is usable, such as wool or hair suitable for wig manufacture?

According to Tosafos, this is the question of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, which, the Gemara teaches, is the subject of a dispute among tanna’im. According to Rabbi Shimon, trimming hair or cutting nails is prohibited only as a rabbinic prohibition, since we do not use the trimmed items (Tosafos, Shabbos 94b s.v. aval). The disputing tanna, Rabbi Yehudah, rules that someone who performs a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah on Shabbos is culpable min haTorah. In his opinion, the fact that we do not use the trimmed nails or hair is irrelevant in defining the act as a melacha, as long as the results of the melacha are positive. In this instance, because of asthetic reasons the trimmed nails or hair is a desired outcome. Therefore, these acts violate Shabbos min haTorah, notwithstanding that one’s purpose was qualitatively different from the goal of this melacha in the construction of the Mishkan.

Here is another example of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah: Digging a hole in the ground only because someone needs the earth, but he has no need for the hole. The plowing performed in the building of the Mishkan was in order to plant, whereas digging a hole to obtain earth is qualitatively different from why this melacha was performed for the purpose of building the Mishkan. Therefore, this act qualifies as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, and it is exempt from desecrating Shabbos min haTorah according to Rabbi Shimon.

Among the rishonim, we find many other approaches to explain the concept of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, but for clarity’s sake, we will limit our discussion to the approach of Tosafos.

Returning to the mekosheish

What does the purpose for which we do a melacha have to do with the mekosheish?

Based on his analysis of a midrash, the Maharsha (Commentary to Bava Basra 119a) explains that the mekosheish’s goal was not to perform the melacha, but to become an educational tool.The punishment he would receive for violating Shabbos would teach the Bnei Yisroel the stringency of observing Shabbos. Since he was not interested in the results of his melacha activities, they had the halachic category of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. According to the authorities who rule that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is not a Torah violation, the mekosheish never desecrated Shabbos, but instead was creating greater respect for Shabbos. Thus, the answer to the question posed to Rabbi Akiva — how could you reveal negative information about a tzadik — is that the mekosheish was not doing an aveirah, but a mitzvah!

We should note that, even if Tzelafchad was permitted to perform the specific melacha activity that he did, we would not be permitted to perform this activity because it is now prohibited by a rabbinic injunction. This prohibition had not yet been created in the days of Tzelafchad.

Why was he punished?

If, according to the Maharsha, Tzelafchad had technically not violated Shabbos, why was he punished by the beis din as if he had?

The Maharsha explains that since his thoughts of educating Bnei Yisroel were not known, the witnesses and the beis din dealt only with his actions, which is exactly what Tzelafchad wanted.

Thus, we can answer our opening question: “I was once told that the mekosheish was a frum Jew who did not really desecrate Shabbos. What does this mean?”

The answer is that, according to the approach suggested by the Maharsha, the mekosheish was a good guy, whose goal was to strengthen the commitment of Klal Yisroel to the observance of Shabbos, a mission that he accomplished. According to this suggestion, we can readily understand how he fathered such exemplary daughters.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s rule as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11). Understanding that the goal of our actions affects whether a melacha activity has been performed demonstrates even more so the concepts of purpose and accomplishment.

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Waiting for Twelve Months

The end of parshas Balak includes a reference to the laws of kashrus:

Question #1: Sentimental China

“A family is in the process of kashering their home for the first time, and they own an expensive and sentimental, but treif, set of china. Is there any way that they can avoid throwing it away?”

Question #2: No Bologna

“I own an expensive set of fleishig china that I do not use, and, frankly, I desperately need money for other things now. Someone is interested in paying top price for this set because it matches their milchig china. Is there any way I can kasher it and sell it to them, and they may use it for milchig?”

Question #3: Hungary on Pesach

“Help! I just completed cooking the seudos for the first days of Pesach, and I realize now that I used a pot that was used once, more than two years ago, for chometz. Do I have to throw out all the food I made? I have no idea when I am going to have time to make the seudos again!”

Introduction:

Every one of the she’eilos mentioned above shows up in one of the classic works of responsa that I will be quoting in the course of this article. They all touch on the status of food equipment that has not been used for twelve months. In order to have more information with which to understand this topic, I must first introduce some halachic background.

When food is cooked in a pot or other equipment, halacha assumes that some “taste,” of the food remains in the walls of the pot, even after the pot has been scrubbed completely clean. We are concerned that this will add flavor to the food cooked subsequently in that pot. This is the basis for requiring that we kasher treif pots, because the kashering process removes the residual taste.

Until the pot is kashered

Once twenty-four hours have passed since the food was cooked, the residual taste in the vessel spoils and is now categorized as nosein taam lifgam, a halachic term meaning thatthe taste that remains is unpleasant. Something is considered nosein taam lifgam even if it is only mildly distasteful.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 67b) cites a dispute between tana’im whether nosein taam lifgam is permitted or prohibited. The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 65b) rules that nosein taam lifgam is permitted. This is the conclusion of the Gemara in several places (Avodah Zarah 36a, 38b, 39b, 65b, 67b) and also the conclusion of the halachic authorities (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 17:2; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 103:5; 122:6). This means that, although it is prohibited to eat a food that includes a pleasant taste or residue of non-kosher, when the non-kosher food provides a less than appetizing flavor, the food is permitted.

Here is an example that bears out this rule. Glycerin (sometimes called glycerol), which is frequently manufactured from non-kosher animal fat, is often used as an ingredient in foods because, in addition to its other properties, it also adds a sweet flavor to the product. Therefore, when non-kosher glycerin is used in an otherwise kosher product, as I once found in a donut glaze, the product — in this case the donuts — are non-kosher.

On the other hand, if the ingredient adds an unpleasant taste, the finished product remains kosher.

Treif pots

Because of the halachic conclusion that nosein taam lifgam is permitted, min haTorah one would be allowed to use a treif pot once twenty-four hours have passed since it was last used. As mentioned above, at this point the absorbed flavor is considered spoiled, nosein taam lifgam. The reason that we are required to kasher equipment that contains nosein taam lifgam is because of a rabbinic injunction. This is because of concern that someone might forget and cook with a pot that was used the same day for treif, which might result in the consumption of prohibited food (Avodah Zarah 75b).

Chometz is exceptional

The above discussion regarding the rules of nosein taam lifgam is true regarding use of a pot in which non-kosher food was cooked. However, regarding chometz, the prohibition is stricter. Ashkenazim rule that nosein taam lifgam is prohibited in regard to Pesach products. Why is the halacha stricter regarding Pesach? Nosein taam lifgam still qualifies as a remnant of non-kosher food; it is permitted because it does not render a positive taste. However, regarding Pesach, we rule that even a minuscule percentage of chometz is prohibited. Thus, if a chometzdik pot was used to cook on Pesach, even in error, the food is prohibited.

Fleishig to milchig

The rules governing the use of fleishig equipment that was used for milchig and vice versa are similar to the rules that apply to treif equipment, and not the stricter rules that apply to chometzdik equipment used on Pesach. Someone who cooks or heats meat and dairy in the same vessel, on the same day, creates a prohibited mix of meat and milk. If the fleishig equipment had not been used the same day for meat, the meat flavor imparted to the dairy product is nosein taam lifgam. Although the pot must be kashered, since it now contains both milk and meat residue, the dairy food cooked in it remains kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 93:1). The same is true regarding dairy equipment used to prepare fleishig.

Kashering from fleishig to milchig

Although non-kosher equipment can usually be kashered to make it kosher, and chometzdik equipment can usually be kashered to make it kosher for Passover, there is a longstanding custom not to kasher fleishig equipment to use as milchig, and vice versa (Magen Avraham 509:11). The reason for this custom is because if a person regularly koshers his pots or other equipment from milchig to fleishig and back again, he will eventually make a mistake and use them for the wrong type of food without kashering them first (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:43). By the way, it is accepted that someone who kashered their fleishig pot for Pesach may now decide to use it for milchig and vice versa.

Earthenware

We need one more piece of information before we begin to discuss the laws of equipment that has not been used for twelve months. That is to note that there is equipment that cannot usually be kashered. The Gemara teaches that we cannot kasher earthenware equipment, since once the non-kosher residue is absorbed into its walls, it will never come out. (Some authorities permit kashering earthenware or china, which is halachically similar, three times, although this heter is not usually relied upon. A discussion on this point will need to be left for a different time.)

Twelve months

Now that we have had an introduction, we can discuss whether anything changes twelve months after food was cooked. Chazal created a prohibition, called stam yeinam, which prohibits consumption, and, at times, even use, of wine and grape juice produced by a non-Jew. Halachically, there is no difference between wine and grape juice. Notwithstanding the prohibition against using equipment that was once used for non-kosher, we find a leniency that equipment used to produce non-kosher wine may be used after twelve months have transpired. The equipment used by a gentile to crush the juice out of the grapes, or to store the wine or grape juice is also prohibited. This means that we must assume that this equipment still contains taste of the prohibited grape juice.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 34a) rules that the grape skins, seeds and sediment left over after a gentile crushed out the juice are prohibited both for consumption and for benefit. This is because non-kosher grape juice is absorbed into the skins, seeds and sediment. However, after they have been allowed to dry for twelve months, whatever non-kosher taste was left in the skins, seeds and sediment are gone, and it is permitted to use and even eat them. Similarly, once twelve months have transpired since last use, the equipment used to process or store the non-kosher juice also becomes permitted. Thus, the Gemara rules that the jugs, flasks and earthenware vessels used to store non-kosher wine are prohibited for twelve months, but may be used once twelve months have elapsed since their last use. The conclusions of this Gemara are codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 135:16). The process of allowing twelve months to transpire and then permit the leftovers is called yishun.

Several common products are permitted because of this halacha. One example is a wine derivative called tartaric acid, an organic compound with many practical usages. Among its food uses is in beverages, as a flavor enhancer and as baking powder. It is commonly considered kosher, notwithstanding that it is a by-product of non-kosher wine. (It should have a hechsher since it can be produced in ways that are non-kosher.)

It is important to note that this method of kashering, i.e., of waiting twelve months, is mentioned in the Gemara only with reference to kashering after the use of non-kosher wine. The halachic authorities debate whether this method of kashering may be used regarding other prohibitions, and this is the starting point for us to address our opening questions.

Hungry on Pesach

“Help! I just completed cooking the seudos for the first days of Pesach, and I realize now that I used a pot that was used once, more than two years ago, for chometz. Do I have to throw out all the food I made? I have no idea when I am going to have time to make the seudos again!” It would seem that there is no hope for this hardworking housewife, and indeed all her efforts are for naught. However, let us examine an actual case and discover that not everyone agrees.

A very prominent eighteenth-century halachic authority, the Chacham Tzvi, was asked this question: On Pesach, someone mistakenly cooked food in a pot that had been used once, two years before, for chometz. Since Ashkenazim rule that even nosein taam lifgam is prohibited on Pesach, it would seem that the food cooked on Pesach in this pot is prohibited, and this was indeed what some of those involved assumed. However, the Chacham Tzvi contended that the food cooked in this pot is permitted, because he drew a distinction between nosein taam lifgam after 24 hours, and yishun after 12 months. He notes that grape juice absorbed into the vessels or the remaining seeds and skins is prohibited, even for benefit, for up to 12 months, yet after 12 months it becomes permitted. Thus, we see that even the actual wine becomes permitted, because after twelve months it dries out completely and there is no residual taste. It must certainly be true, reasons the Chacham Tzvi, that chometz flavor absorbed into a pot or other vessel must completely dissipate by twelve months after use and that no residual taste is left (Shu’t Chacham Tzvi #75, 80; cited by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 122:3).

Notwithstanding this reasoning, the Chacham Tzvi did not permit using treif equipment without kashering it, even when twelve months transpired since its last use. He explains that since Chazal prohibited use of treif equipment even when the product now being manufactured will be kosher, no distinction was made whether more than a year transpired since its last use — in all instances, one must kasher the vessel before use and not rely on the yishun that transpires after twelve months. However, after the fact, the Chacham Tzvi permitted the food prepared by Mrs. Hardworking in a pot that had been used for chometz more than twelve months before.

Aged vessels

About a century after the Chacham Tzvi penned his responsum, we find a debate among halachic authorities that will be germane to a different one of our opening questions.

Someone purchased non-kosher earthenware vessels that had not been used for twelve months. He would suffer major financial loss if he could not use them or sell them to someone Jewish. Rav Michel, the rav of Lifna, felt that the Jewish purchaser could follow a lenient approach and use the vessels on the basis of the fact that, after twelve months, no prohibited residue remains in the dishes. However, Rav Michel did not want to assume responsibility for the ruling without discussing it with the renowned sage, Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Shu’t Rabbi Akiva Eiger 1:43).

Rabbi Akiva Eiger rejected this approach. First of all, he noted that the Chacham Tzvi, himself, did not permit cooking in vessels aged twelve months since last use, only permitting the product that was cooked in those pots.

Secondly, Rabbi Akiva Eiger disputed the Chacham Tzvi’s approach that the concept of yishun applies to anything other than wine. Rabbi Akiva Eiger writes that, among the rishonim, he found the following explanation of yishun: The Rashba writes that the concept of yishun applies only to wine vessels, and the reason is because no remnant of the wine is left since it has dried out (Shu’t Harashba 1:575). Rabbi Akiva Eiger writes that the only other rishon he found who explained how yishun works also held the same as the Rashba. This means that the kashering method known as yishun applies only for non-kosher wine, but to no other prohibitions. Since Rabbi Akiva Eiger found no rishon who agreed with the Chacham Tzvi, he was unwilling to accept this heter. In his opinion, the food cooked on Pesach by Mrs. Hardworking is chometzdik and must be discarded.

Sentimental china

At this point, let us examine a different one of our opening questions:

“A family is in the process of kashering their home for the first time, and they own an expensive, but treif, set of china. Is there anyway that they can avoid throwing it away?”

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked this exact question (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:46). Rabbi Shmuel Weller, a rav in Fort Wayne, Indiana, asked Rav Moshe about a family that, under his influence, had recently decided to keep kosher. The question is that they have an expensive set of porcelain dishes that they have not used for over a year and they do not want to throw it away. Is there any method whereby they may still use it? Rav Moshe writes that, because of the principle of takanas hashavim — which means that to encourage people who want to do teshuvah we are lenient in halachic rules — one could be lenient. The idea is that although Chazal prohibited use of an eino ben yomo, they prohibited it only because there is still residual flavor in the vessel, although the flavor is permitted. Once twelve months have passed, the Chacham Tzvi held that there is no residual flavor left at all. Although the Chacham Tzvi, himself, prohibited the vessels for a different reason, Rav Moshe contends that there is a basis for a heter. (See also Shu’t Noda Biyehudah, Yoreh Deah 2:51.)

Rav Moshe notes that there are other reasons that one could apply to permit kashering this china, and he therefore rules that one may permit the use of the china by kashering it three times. Because of space considerations, the other reasons, as well as the explanation why kashering three times helps, will have to be left for a different time.

No bologna

At this point, let us refer again to a different one of our opening questions: “I own an expensive set of fleishig china that I do not use, and, frankly, I desperately need money for other things now. Someone is interested in paying top price for this set because it matches their milchig china. Is there anyway I can kasher it and sell it to them, and they may use it for milchig?”

This question presents two problems:

(1) Is there any way to remove the residual fleishig flavor and kasher the china?

(2) Is it permitted to kasher anything from fleishig to milchig?

In a responsum to Rav Zelig Portman, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:43) discusses this question.

We will take these two questions in reverse order. As I mentioned earlier, the Magen Avraham (509:11) reports that there is an accepted minhag not to kasher fleishig equipment in order to use it for milchig, and vice versa. Wouldn’t changing the use of this china violate the minhag?

Rav Moshe explains that the reason for this minhag is to avoid someone using the same pot, or other equipment, all the time by simply kashering it every time he needs to switch from milchig to fleishig. The obvious problem is that, eventually, he will make a mistake and forget to kasher the piece of equipment before using it.

Rav Moshe therefore suggests that the custom of the Magen Avraham applies only to a person who actually used the equipment for fleishig; this person may not kasher it to use for milchig. However, someone who never used it for fleishig would not be included in the minhag.

Regarding the first question, Rav Moshe concludes that, since twelve months have passed since the china was last used for fleishig, one may kasher it.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than are the laws of the Written Torah. In this context, we understand that Chazal established many rules to protect the Jewish people from violating the Torah’s laws of kashrus. This article has served as an introduction to one aspect of the laws of kashrus that relates to utensils. Not only is the food that a Jew eats required to be given special care, but also the equipment with which he prepares that food. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

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The Tumah of Utensils

Since the beginning of this week’s parsha is all about the laws of tumah and taharah, we will be studying these laws in preparation for the arrival of the Moshiach!

Question #1: Slingshots like Tefillin?!?

How are slingshots like Tefillin?

Question #2: Sack or sock?

What is the difference between a sack and a sock?

Question #3: Very earthy

How is an earthenware oven different from other earthenware utensils?

Introduction:

Since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still lies in ruins, the laws of tumah and taharah do not affect our daily lives significantly. As a result, many people do not approach the study of these laws enthusiastically, and do not pay adequate attention to the Torah readings when they concern this topic. Yet, our prayers for Moshiach to come at any moment require us to be fully knowledgeable of the laws of tumah and taharah, so that we are prepared to observe them.

Some tumah basics

Someone who becomes tamei may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim, kodoshim or any other foods that have sanctity.

The following passage of the Torah in parshas Shemini mentions eleven different categories of the laws of tumah, which are numbered in the selection below to facilitate explaining them afterward. The Torah writes:

Among animals that walk on all fours (1), anything that walks upon its forepaws is impure (tamei). Whoever touches the carcass of such an animal will be tamei until evening. And whoever carries their carcass must wash his clothes, and he is tamei until evening, because these animals are tamei for you.

And the following creatures that creep on the ground (2) are tamei for you: The weasel, the mouse, and the various species of toad; also, the hedgehog, the ko’ach, the lizard, the snail and the mole. These are tamei to you, among all the creeping animals – whoever touches them after they are dead will be tamei, until evening. And anything that falls upon them after they are dead will become tamei, whether it is a wooden vessel (3) or a garment (4) or leather (5) or sackcloth (6) – any vessel with which work is performed (7). It must be immersed in water, and then it remains tamei until evening, at which point it becomes tahor.

Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei “creeping creatures”) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel (8), whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel). And any edible food (9) that had water touch it can become tamei. Similarly, any liquid (10) that can be drunk will become tamei, if inside such a vessel. Furthermore, anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove (11) should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei (Vayikra 11:27-35).

The Torah described many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination). In a previous article on this topic, I explained the laws of neveilah and sheretz (numbers 1 and 2 above).

Utensils that become tamei

Returning to our passage, after mentioning the tumah of neveilah and sheretz, the Torah lists nine categories of items that become tamei from contact with neveilah or sheretz. The specific items mentioned are: (3) wooden vessels, (4) garments, (5) leather items, (6) sackcloth, (7) vessels described by a not-easily-understood clause, “any vessel with which work is performed,” (8) earthenware, (9) food, (10) beverages and (11) ovens and stoves. Each of these categories has its own specific laws, which are hinted at in the pasuk. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I will divide this list into three groups. The first group consists of the first five items, which I will call, collectively, “immersible utensils.”

(3) Wooden utensils

Wooden vessels have the potential to become tamei if they can hold liquid (called a beis kibul) or when people use them and place items on them, such as a table (Rambam, Hilchos Keilim 4:1). These ideas are suggested by the Torah when it describes wooden items that can become tamei as “vessels” (keilim).

(4-5) Garments and leather

All types of garments are susceptible to tumah, although there is a dispute among late authorities concerning whether synthetic fabrics can become tamei.

(6) Sack

Yes, I wrote sack, not sock. Sackcloth means something manufactured from woven goat’s hair or animal hair, such as from the tail hair of cows (Sifra). In general, goat hair is too coarse to use as clothing, but it was used in earlier generations as a bag or sack for storage or transportation, similar to the way we use burlap today. (Some varieties of goat produce extremely fine wool used for garments, such as cashmere and mohair, but most goats do not.)

(7) From slingshots to tefillin

The Torah mentions that any vessel with which work is performed can become tamei from a sheretz. What is included in this category? The Sifra, the halachic midrash on the book of Vayikra that dates back to the era of the tanna’im, explains that this verse teaches that the following three items become tamei: The sling of a slingshot, tefillin, and a pouch in which one places an amulet.

What do slingshots have in common with tefillin?

These three items contain a beis kibul, a receptacle to hold something, yet some might mistakenly think that they do not qualify as “vessels.” The Torah is teaching that these are considered receptacles, or “vessels,” able to become tamei. In the case of the sling, it is meant to hold a marble, stone or other projectile, albeit for a very brief period of time. In the case of tefillin, this is because the batim of the tefillin contain the parshi’os, and, similarly, in the case of an amulet.

(8) Earthenware

Note that I have separated earthenware and not included it under the same category as the other utensils. This is because earthenware has many halachic differences, some lenient and some stringent, from all other utensils.

All other utensils fall under one of two categories:

(A) Utensils that do not become tamei, which is a topic we are not discussing in this article. An example of this is vessels manufactured from stone. By the way, this explains why excavations in the old city and other areas around Israel have found many vessels and utensils made of stone. Since these items are not susceptible to tumah, kohanim who needed to be concerned not to make their terumah and challah tamei often used stone vessels that could not become tamei.

(B) Utensils that do become tamei but can become tahor again by immersion in a mikveh or spring. This latter categoryis called klei shetef, literally, immersible utensils.

How is earthenware different?

(C) Earthenware vessels fall under a third category, because once they become tamei, the only way they can become tahor again is by being broken. Immersing them in a mikveh or spring does not make them tahor.

There are also several other ways whereby halacha treats earthenware vessels differently than it treats immersible utensils. The section of the Torah quoted above alludes to four of the ways that earthenware vessels are different.

Contaminate from outside

(I) Immersible utensils become contaminated when they come in contact with neveilah, sheretz or other tamei sources, regardless whether they are touched on their internal surface or on their outside. However, if something tamei touched the outside of an earthenware vessel, it remains tahor. An earthenware vessel contracts tumah only from its inside, and only when it has a beis kibul – an area that can serve as a “container” to hold liquid. As a result, a flat earthenware board or an earthenware fork cannot become tamei, since it has no “inside” that holds liquid.

Immersion does not help

(II) As mentioned above, another way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that, once they become tamei, there is no means of making them tahor again, other than breaking them.

Airspace

(III) A third way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that they become tamei if a tamei source, such as a sheretz or neveilah, is suspended within the airspace of the earthenware vessel, even if the sheretz or neveilah does not touch the vessel. Halachically, there is no difference between touching the airspace of an earthenware vessel and touching it on the inside – either way makes the earthenware vessel tamei.

Contaminating from within

(IV) A fourth way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that a tamei earthenware vessel spreads tumah to any food or beverage that is inside the vessel, even if the food or beverage never actually touched the vessel.

These four laws regarding earthenware vessels are all taught in a few words in the pasuk mentioned above: Furthermore, any part of them [the eight tamei creatures] that will fall inside any earthenware vessel, whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it [the earthenware vessel].

The Torah mentions that an earthenware vessel contracts tumah only when something falls inside it, and does not say that the tamei substance must actually touch the earthenware vessel. Also, note that any food or beverage inside the earthenware vessel becomes tamei, even if it did not touch the earthenware vessel, but is suspended inside it. And, lastly, upon becoming tamei, the Torah mentions only one solution for the earthenware vessel: breaking it. There is no other way to make it tahor.

(11) Ovens and stoves

Let us return to the final pasuk quoted above, which discusses a special type of earthenware vessel: Anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei.

The ovens of the era of the Torah and Chazal were made of earthenware. Their shape was tubular, meaning that they were completely open on top and bottom. The open bottom was placed over a hollow in the ground, and then the outside of the oven was lined with mud or clay to insulate it well. Fuel was placed in the hollow inside the oven and kindled by means of an opening in the side. The food being cooked or baked was placed inside, either through this opening or through an opening at the top. When these ovens were used as stoves, pots of food were placed on the open top. When they were used as ovens, the open top was covered, usually with a piece of earthenware.

I explain these facts not for anthropological documentation, but so that we can better understand both the pasuk of the Torah and the halacha. Although ovens and stoves were made of earthenware, the Torah mentions them as a different category. This is because other earthenware vessels become tamei only when they have a beis kibul, a receptacle. Under this definition, earthenware ovens and stoves should not become tamei, since they have no bottom. The Torah teaches that ovens and stoves are susceptible to tumah, and have the rules of other earthenware vessels, despite the fact that they have no beis kibul.

There are halachic ramifications to this distinction, but we will not discuss that in this article. The intrepid reader is referred to a halachic discussion in Ohalos 12:1, and the commentaries thereon.

Conclusion

This article and one I sent out for parshas Shemini have served to introduce some of the basic rules of tumah and taharah; this one, as these laws relate to utensils. We hope and pray to be able to observe all of these laws soon.

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Can There Be Smoke without a Fire?

In parshas Korach, 250 men burnt ketores and paid with their lives.

Question #1: Frankfurters on the Blech

May I place cold frankfurters on top of a hot pot to warm them on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Cheese Dogs

“May one derive benefit from a cheese dog, which is a grilled hot dog with added cheese and chili sauce?”

Question #3: Lox for Eruv Tavshillin?

“I will be traveling overseas for Yom Tov and Shabbos, and it will be difficult for me to have cooked food ready for an eruv tavshillin. May I use lox as my eruv tavshillin?”

Foreword

Our  opening questions are germane to whether “smoking” qualifies as “cooking,” for halachic purposes. As we will see shortly, the Gemara and halachic authorities discuss several situations affected by this question, with ramifications for the laws of Shabbos, kashrus and eruv tavshillin. Let us begin by understanding some background information.

In general, we are familiar with two very common methods of preparing food using heat. In one instance, the food is cooked directly by the heat, without any medium. This is what we do when we barbecue, broil, or bake. The food is cooked or baked directly by the heat. On the other hand, when we boil or fry food, we cook it in a hot liquid — when boiling, usually in water, and when frying, in oil.

There are also many methods of making raw food edible without heat, such as salting, pickling or marinating. Preparing food this way causes the flavors of the different ingredients to blend together, which halacha calls beli’ah. Therefore, should one ingredient be non-kosher, the entire food will become non-kosher. However, there are halachic ramifications to the fact that these methods of food preparation are not considered “cooking.” Even though salting and pickling food make it edible, the food is not considered cooked.Therefore, germane to the laws of Shabbos, one will not be able to heat up smoked food, using methods permitted to warm food on Shabbos. For example, although it is permitted to heat food that is already cooked by placing it atop a pot which is, itself, on top of a fire or blech, one may not heat up deli this way on Shabbos, when it has been pickled, but not cooked, which is usually the case.

Several types of smoking

In contemporary use, the term “smoked” may refer to several different ways of preparing food, with variant halachic ramifications. Here are three methods:

Hot smoke

Frankfurters and many other sausages are “cooked” in hot smoke, in an appliance sometimes called a smoker. Rather than being cooked directly by the fire, or by water that is heated by a fire, these foods are cooked by hot smoke. This is also the usual way in which raw salmon is made into lox. The question we will be discussing in our article is whether this is halachically equivalent to cooking in water, oil or other liquid. There are many halachic ramifications to the question. Unless specified otherwise, our article is discussing this type of smoking, in which smoke is doing the actual cooking (see Perisha, Yoreh Deah 87:9).

Cured food

In this type of “smoking,” wood is burned inside a sealed room, usually called a “smokehouse.” The food to be preserved and processed is placed inside the smokehouse for several days, or perhaps even weeks, while the smoke, now cool, cures and provides the food with a smoky flavor. Since the food production in this instance takes place in room temperature smoke, this process should not be considered either “cooking” or beli’ah. However, there is one late authority who considers this method of producing food to be similar to cooking (Chadrei Deah, quoted by Badei Hashulchan, Biurim 87:6 s.v. Ha’me’ushan). For the rest of this article, I will not take this opinion under consideration, since it is not within mainstream accepted halacha.

Regarding the laws of Shabbos, food smoked this way is certainly considered to be uncooked.

Smoke flavored

A third method of smoking is when food is prepared by steaming, cooking or broiling, and a natural or artificial ingredient called smoke flavor is added to provide smoke taste. If the food was prepared by being cooked or broiled, it is considered cooked for halachic purposes. If the food was prepared by being “steamed,” a process similar to the first method of smoking mentioned above, the halachic issue is more complicated. The halachic question is whether cooking in steam and cooking in smoke are identical, or, perhaps, cooking in steam is like cooking in water. I will leave that aspect of this topic for a future article.

Smoking on Shabbos!

At this point, I will explain some of the halachic issues affected by the question as to whether smoking food is the same as cooking. One of the 39 melachos prohibited on Shabbos is mevasheil, cooking, or, in the words of the Mishnah (Shabbos 73a), ofeh, baking. This melacha involves preparing food with heat (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:1-5). One of the questions that the Gemara discusses is whether smoking food on Shabbos is considered a violation of the melacha of cooking on Shabbos min haTorah, and another issue is whether smoked food is considered cooked.

Here is one application of this issue: Once dry food has been completely cooked, such as baked or barbecued chicken or a kugel, there is no Torah violation in heating it on Shabbos. (There often may be rabbinic violations involved, but there are ways of warming cooked food on Shabbos that are permitted. We have discussed that topic in the past.) However, heating uncooked food on Shabbos usually involves a melacha min haTorah. The question we are raising is whether food that has been smoked, such as lox or hot dogs, is considered as cooked regarding the laws of warming food on Shabbos. If it is, then there are more options available to warm them on Shabbos.

Smoking meat and milk

A second area of halacha where this question – whether smoking constitutes cooking – is germane, is the prohibition of eating dairy and meat foods cooked together, basar becholov. Although we are prohibited from eating meat and milk together even when both are cold, or even from eating dairy after consuming meat, these prohibitions are only miderabbanan. The prohibition is violated min haTorah by cooking meat and dairy together or by eating meat and dairy that were previously cooked together. The question that we will tackle is whether smoking meat and dairy together is prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan.

There is a halachic difference that depends on whether preparing a meat and dairy mixture is prohibited miderabbanan or min haTorah. The prohibition against benefitting from meat and milk applies only when one violated the law min haTorah, but not when one violated it miderabbanan (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 87:3 and commentaries). Therefore, if meat and dairy were mixed together when cold, there is no prohibition in getting benefit from the resultant product, even though it may not be eaten. For this reason, selling pet food does not violate the law of benefiting from basar becholov, even when it contains both meat and dairy products, since the two are not cooked together, but blended together at room temperature.

The question germane to our discussion is whether a Jew may benefit from a meat and dairy product that was smoked together. For example, if someone smoked a raw frankfurter together with cheese, is it prohibited min haTorah, and for this reason one may not have benefit from it min haTorah, or not?

Bishul akum

Here is another kashrus application in which it will make a difference whether smoking is considered cooking or not. Chazal prohibited eating food cooked by a non-Jew, even when all the ingredients are kosher, unless the food is edible raw or would not be served on a royal table. Is smoking considered “cooking” germane to this prohibition, or not? This means that, if a non-Jew smoked food that is inedible raw, is it prohibited because of bishul akum? A practical difference is whether a hechsher on hot dogs must make sure that a Jew smoked the frankfurters; another is whether the smoking of lox must be done by a Jew.  In both of these situations, the question is whether this food is considered cooked by a non-Jew, which might prohibit it as bishul akum, or whether it was prepared in a way that does not qualify as “cooking,” and therefore bishul akum is not a concern.

Eruv tavshillin

Here is yet another halachic application in which it will make a difference whether smoked food is considered “cooked” or not. Chazal prohibited cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbos, unless one prepares an eruv tavshillin, a cooked item designated before Yom Tov that will remain until the Shabbos preparations are completed, and that thereby permits cooking for Shabbos on Yom Tov that falls on Friday. If smoked food is considered cooked, then it is acceptable to use a food that was prepared by smoking, such as a frankfurter or lox, as an eruv tavshillin. If smoked food is not considered cooked, then it is not.

The Yerushalmi

Now that we understand the background, we can examine the Talmudic discussion that concerns smoked food. We will begin by quoting a passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedorim 6:1): “The rabbis of Kisrin asked: What is the law of smoked food in regard to the prohibition of bishul akum? In regard to cooking on Shabbos? What is its law regarding mixing meat and milk together?” The passage of Yerushalmi then changes the subject, without ruling on the three questions raised.

The issue the Yerushalmi seems to be asking is whether cooking food in smoke is halachically equivalent to cooking in liquid. In each of these instances, a hot medium is used to prepare the food. The first question of the Yerushalmi is whether food smoked by a non-Jew is prohibited, or whether the proscription of bishul akum is limited to food cooked via fire or liquid. If cooking in smoke is halachically considered the same as cooking in water or oil, then lox or frankfurters that were smoked by a non-Jew are prohibited because of bishul akum. On the other hand, if smoking is not treated as cooking, then there is no halachic problem with eating lox or hot dogs in which the actual smoking was performed by a non-Jew, provided that the ingredients are all kosher.

The second question of the Yerushalmi can be explained as follows: If a Jewish person placed raw frankfurters or salmon into a smoker on Shabbos, and the frankfurters or lox thereby became edible on Shabbos, did the person desecrate a melacha on Shabbos? If he did, then there are halachic ramifications germane to a product that was smoked on Shabbos in violation of the law.

The third question of the Yerushalmi concerns the laws of cooking meat and milk together. If smoking is considered cooking, min haTorah, then smoking a cheese dog violates basar becholov min haTorah, and it is prohibited to have any benefit from it.

As I noted above, the Yerushalmi that we quoted does not mention a conclusion regarding these three questions. Based on these unresolved questions, the Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 9:6) appears to conclude the following: when our issue is a halacha that is min haTorah, we rule stringently. However, when the issue is a rabbinic question, we will rule leniently and not consider this to be cooking.

As a result, it is certainly prohibited as a safek de’oraysa to smoke a cheese dog or to smoke food on Shabbos. It would be prohibited to have any benefit from a smoked cheese dog. However, someone who violated these prohibitions would not be punishable for his offense, even when such punishment was practiced and even had he fulfilled all the requirements to receive this punishment, because the Yerushalmi did not conclude definitively that it constitutes a violation. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 87:6) follows the same approach as the Rambam.

We will continue this topic at some point in the future.

Conclusion

In non-observant circles, a well-known non-Jewish criticism of Judaism is frequently leveled: “Does G-d care more about what goes into our mouths than he does about what comes out?” The criticism is, of course, in error, and its answer is that Hashem cares both about what goes in and what comes out, and it is the height of conceit for us to decide which is “more” important in His eyes. Being careful about what we eat and about what we say are both important steps in growing in our development as human beings.

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The Holey Donut

Question #1: Holey Blessings

“What brocha should I recite before eating a donut? Does it make a difference whether it is an American-style, hole-in-the-middle donut or an Israeli-style jelly donut?”

Question #1: Chanukah Donuts

“Must I separate challah from the donuts I am frying for Chanukah?”

Question #3: Non-Jewish Consumers

“I just purchased a donut shop that is quite distant from any Jewish community. Must I make sure that challah is taken?”

Introduction:

Although neither Israeli donuts nor Israeli latkes are usually made with holes in the middle, Americans envision donuts as a big zero, no doubt to remind them of the number of calories contained in the hole.

Donuts are made from dough that is deep fried, or cooked in oil (these are two ways of saying the same thing). Because they are cooked, most authorities rule that the correct brocha before consuming them is mezonos. However, our opening questions require that we study the topic in greater depth. Doing so, we will discover that although reciting mezonos before consuming donuts is the accepted approach, it is not a universally held position, and that there are many halachic ramifications to this dispute.

Analyzing this topic requires that we explain several major issues in the laws of separating challah, so that is where our discussion begins. We should note that throughout this entire article, the word challah will be used to refer to the portion removed from dough to fulfill the mitzvah of the Torah, and not to the special Shabbos bread.

The Torah and challah

The Torah describes the mitzvah of challah in the following passage:

When you enter the land to which I am bringing you, it will be that, when you eat from the bread of the land, you shall separate a terumah offering for G-d. The first dough of your kneading troughs shall be separated as challah, like the terumah of your grain shall you separate it (Bamidbar 15:18-20).

Let us make several observations about this posuk, and then proceed to discuss them.

Bread or dough?

1. There appears to be an inconsistency in the words of the Torah. First, it refers to when you eat from the bread of the land, which implies that the requirement to separate challah begins only once it becomes bread. Yet, in the very next posuk, the Torah requires challah to be taken from your kneading troughs, implying that you separate challah when it is still dough. Which is true?

Terumah or challah?

2. The Torah refers to the part separated as a “terumah offering,” and then compares it to the terumah of your grain. In what way is challah like terumah?

Consumer or manufacturer?

3. The words of the Torah, when you eat from the bread of the land, you shall separate a terumah offering, imply that the obligation to take challah falls upon the consumer who will be eating the bread. However, the next verse states, the first dough ofyour kneading troughs shall be separated as challah, implying that the obligation falls upon the manufacturer. Why do two verses imply different laws?

Bread or dough

The answer is that the words of the Torah, the first dough of your kneading troughs, teaches that there is no requirement to separate challah unless there is as much dough as the amount of manna eaten daily by each member of the Jewish people in the desert, which, in their generation, was called “your kneading trough.” Chazal explain that this amount, called ke’shiur i’sas midbar, was equal to the volume of 43.2 eggs. In contemporary measure, we usually assume that this is approximately three to five pounds of flour. (For our purposes, it will suffice to use these round figures. I encourage each reader to ask his own rav or posek for exact quantities.) When there is a definite requirement to separate challah, one recites a brocha prior to fulfilling the mitzvah.

There is another reason why the Torah refers to the mitzvah both in regard to dough and to the finished bread. Usually, one should separate challah when the dough is mixed. However, there are situations in which one cannot separate challah as dough. In these instances, the Torah is teaching that we can also separate challah when it is already bread.

Terumah or challah

I noted above thattheTorah refers to the separated dough as a “terumah offering,” and then compares it to the terumah of your grain. In what way is challah like terumah?

Terumah may be eaten only by a kohen, his wife, sons and unmarried daughters, and only when they are tahor. Since we are without the parah adumah today, we cannot achieve being fully tahor, and, therefore, we cannot eat terumah. The Torah here teaches that challah has the same laws as terumah, and therefore can be eaten only by members of the kohen’s family who are tahor.

Dough versus batter

We find much discussion in the Mishnah regarding what type of product is included in the obligation to separate challah and a fundamental dispute among the early baalei Tosafos concerning these laws. Note that in the following discussion we differentiate between “dough,” a thick mixture which Chazal call belilah avah, and “batter,” a thin mixture which Chazal call belilah rakah. According to Rabbeinu Tam, any dough owned by a Jew is obligated in challah, even if one subsequently cooks or fries it (cited by many rishonim, including Tosafos, Brochos 37b s.v. Lechem and Pesachim 37b s.v. Dekulei alma).

(Please note that some authorities who accept Rabbeinu Tam’s basic approach that any dough is obligated in challah still exempt dough manufactured for pasta, because of considerations beyond the scope of our topic (see Tosafos, Brochos 37b, s.v. Lechem,quoting Rabbeinu Yechiel), but others hold that, according to Rabbeinu Tam, any product made from dough is obligated in challah, provided the batch was large enough (as described above).

Intent

A different baal Tosafos, the Rash, disagrees with Rabbeinu Tam, contending that one is not always obligated to separate challah from dough. There is such a requirement only when the owner intended to make the dough into bread. However, if the owner intended at the time that he kneaded the dough to cook or fry it, as one does when making donuts or kreplach, there is no obligation to separate challah.

Batter up

Both Rabbeinu Tam and the Rash agree that there is no obligation to take challah from a batter (belilah rakah) unless it was subsequently baked into a bread-like food. In this instance, therefore, the obligation to separate challah does not take place until the bread is produced. Thus, according to both Rabbeinu Tam and the Rash, we can resolve why the Torah describes the mitzvah of challah sometimes in terms of bread and sometimes in terms of dough. In most instances, the obligation to separate challah is when the flour mixture becomes dough. However, there are instances, such as when preparing a batter, in which there is no obligation to separate challah until it becomes bread.

Mezonos or hamotzi?

Many authorities explain that the dispute between Rabbeinu Tam and the Rash also affects which brocha one recites on a cooked or fried dough. They contend that, according to Rabbeinu Tam, since dough is obligated in challah, the brocha recited before eating dough that was then cooked or fried is hamotzi, the brocha recited afterwards is the full bensching,and that, prior to eating a cooked or fried dough product, there is a requirement to wash netilas yadayim.

Others rule that one does not recite hamotzi unless another requirement is met – that the finished product, after the frying or cooking, has a bread-like appearance, called in Aramaic turisa denahama (Tosafos, Pesachim and Brochos 37b s.v. Lechem). The halachic basis for drawing a distinction between the mitzvah of challah and the brocha requirements is that the requirement to separate challah is established at the time the dough is mixed, whereas the halachic determination of which brocha to recite is determined by the finished product (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brochos; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:13).

Baking part

At this point, we will return to the laws of challah, in order to understand some of the rulings germane to the laws of brochos. A passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi teaches that someone who prepared a dough or batter with the intention of cooking or frying most of it, and leaving a small amount of the dough for baking, is obligated to separate challah from the entire dough, because of a rabbinic injunction.

The passage reads as follows:

A woman asked Rabbi Mana: ‘I want to make my dough into noodles. Is there a way for me to do so and be exempt from separating challah?’ He told her that it was possible. He then asked his father, Rabbi Yonah, who told him that she should not be exempt from separating challah, out of concern that she will use the rest as one usually processes dough (that is, into bread) (Yerushalmi, Challah 1:4). The rishonim explain that she intended to bake a small part of the dough, and therefore assumed that she is not obligated to separate challah. However, should she subsequently decide that she wanted to bake the entire dough, it would be obligated in challah min haTorah, and she might not realize that she is obligated to separate challah. In order to avoid creating this problem, Chazal required her to separate challah even when she intends to bake only a small amount (Rosh, Pesachim 2:16; Hilchos Challah #2).

Rabbeinu Tam and Rash

At this point, we must note that Rabbeinu Tam and the Rash will dispute exactly what happened in this case. According to Rabbeinu Tam, any time one mixes dough, he is obligated to separate challah. Therefore, the case described by this passage of Yerushalmi must have been where the woman was mixing a batter from which one is usually not obligated to separate challah, intending to bake a small amount, and to cook or fry the rest. Rabbi Yonah ruled that since she might decide to bake the entire batter, she is already obligated, miderabbanan, to separate challah.

According to the Rash, the passage of Yerushalmi can be discussing dough, since the intention at the time of mixing to cook or fry dough exempts it from the mitzvah of separating challah.

The Maharam Rottenberg

Approximately a century after the time of the Rash, the greatest halachic authority in Germany was the Maharam Rottenberg. The Maharam did not want to take sides in this dispute between his two great predecessors, and so he devised the following approach, which he implemented in his own household:

When preparing dough that one intends to cook or fry, the Maharam instructed that one bake a small amount of the dough. According to the Rash, although cooked or fried dough is exempt from challah, when baking some of the dough, one becomes obligated in separating challah because of the takanah established by the Yerushalmi. Therefore, this dough is obligated in challah, whether one holds like Rabbeinu Tam (because it is dough) or like the Rash (because one is baking part of it).

According to Rabbeinu Tam, one should recite a brocha prior to separating challah on dough that one intends to cook or fry, whereas according to the Rash, there is no obligation to separate challah, and this would be a brocha levatalah. To avoid taking sides in this dispute, the Maharam advised baking some of the dough, thus creating a responsibility to separate challah because of the takanas chachamim.

Which brocha when you eat?

The Tur notes that the Maharam’s suggestion of baking some dough resolves only the question of separating challah. However, there is a separate, unresolved question – which brocha does one recite prior to eating a cooked or fried dough product? Rabbeinu Tam contends that the brocha on this product is hamotzi, which also means that one must wash netilas yadayim before eating it and recite bensching afterwards. The Rash maintains that the brocha before eating this food is mezonos, and the brocha afterwards is al hamichyah, and there is no requirement to wash netilas yadayim. How does one avoid taking sides in this dispute? The Maharam’s solution is to eat these products only after one first recited hamotzi on regular bread.

Thus, one of our opening questions “What brocha should I recite before eating a donut?” was considered an unresolved conundrum by the posek of his generation, the Maharam. Since he considered it to be an unresolved halachic issue whether one should recite hamotzi or mezonos prior to eating donuts, he ate them only after first reciting hamotzi on bread. I suspect that low carbohydrate diets were not much in vogue in his day.

How do we rule?

Most authorities conclude that the correct brocha prior to eating a dough product that is cooked or fried is mezonos. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 168:13) and the Rema (ibid.) both follow the majority opinion that the correct brocha prior to eating a dough product that is cooked or fried is mezonos. However, the Shulchan Aruch also cites the minority opinion that one should recite hamotzi prior to eating a cooked dough product. He concludes that, to avoid any question, someone who is a yarei shamayim should eat a cooked dough product only after making hamotzi  on a different item that is definitely bread — what we presented above as the Maharam’s solution. The Shulchan Aruch refers to this as the way a G-d-fearing person should approach the matter. The Rema rules that accepted practice is to simply recite mezonos. Perhaps we could say that the Rema felt that a yarei shamayim can still be concerned about how many carbohydrates he eats!

How do we rule concerning challah?

According to the text accepted by most authorities, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 329:3) concludes that dough that one intends to cook or fry is exempt from the requirement to separate challah, ruling against Rabbeinu Tam. However, the Shach contends that one should separate challah without a brocha. Thus, in his opinion, someone preparing a large quantity of donuts or kreplach is obligated to separate challah, albeit without a brocha. A caterer, restaurant or hotel cooking a large quantity of kreplach for a communal Purim seudah should have challah separated from the dough.

Many later authorities rule that one should take into consideration Rabbeinu Tam’s approach and separate challah from any dough more than three pounds, even when it will be cooked or fried. However, the Shulchan Aruch Harav (Kuntrus Acharon, Orach Chayim 168:7) and the Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 329:15) rule that one does not need to be concerned about Rabbeinu Tam’s position if one is making the dough in chutz la’aretz, since the requirement of separating challah there is certainly only miderabbanan.

Non-Jewish consumers

At this point, we can address the third of our opening questions: “I just purchased a donut shop that is quite distant from any Jewish community. Must I make sure that challah is taken?”

Let me explain the background to this shaylah. A frum businessman purchased a franchised donut shop located nowhere near any Jewishcommunity. His managers and employees are all non-Jewish. To avoid issues of being open on Shabbos and Pesach, the businessman used a type of mechir Shabbos, thereby sharing ownership of his business with a gentile, a highly controversial practice that is beyond the scope of this article. He had assumed that he had no responsibility to separate challah, either because he did not know that some authorities require this, or because he assumed that, since no customers are assuming that his products are kosher, he is not obligated to separate challah. This last assumption is incorrect.

Consumer or owner

The obligation to separate challah is a positive requirement incumbent upon the owner, not simply a means of preventing a Jew from eating the finished product without challah having been separated. The requirement to separate challah depends on the ownership of the dough at the time it is mixed, not on who mixes it. In other words, if a Jew owns a bakery, he is required to separate challah, even if his workers are not Jewish. Should the owner not have separated challah, the consumer is obligated to do so before he may eat the finished product.

If a gentile does the kneading in a Jewish-owned household, nursing home or school, there is an obligation to separate challah.  On the other hand, there is no requirement to separate challah in a bakery owned by non-Jews, even if the employees are Jewish.

Conclusion

Having discussed the halachic details of this mitzvah, it is worthwhile taking a glimpse at the following Medrash that underscores its vast spiritual significance: “In the merit of the following three mitzvos the world was created – in the merit of challah, in the merit of maasros, and in the merit of bikkurim” (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4). Thus, besides gaining us eternal reward, this easily kept mitzvah helps keep our planet turning.

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Reciting Korbanos Daily

This week’s parsha discusses korbanos, the consecration of the Levi’im, and many other matters germane to the Mishkan.

Introduction

Between the recital of morning berachos and Boruch She’amar, which begins pesukei dezimra, is a section of the davening colloquially referred to as “korbanos,” since it includes many references to the various offerings brought in the Beis Hamikdash. The goal of this article is to provide an overview and some details about this part of the davening.

This section of the davening can be loosely divided into three sub-sections:

(1) Introductory recitations

In addition to a few prayers, this includes the recital of various passages of the Torah that have strong educational and moral benefit.

(2) Parshiyos hakorbanos

Recital of Torah passages regarding the offerings and other daily procedures in the Beis Hamikdash.

(3) Chazal regarding the korbanos

The recital of various statements of Chazal that pertain, either directly or indirectly, to the daily offerings.

Introductory recitations

After the recital of birkas haTorah and the other daily morning berochos, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch both recommend the recital of different parts of the Torah as an introduction to the morning davening, including parshas haman, the passage about the manna falling, the story of akeidas Yitzchak and the aseres hadibros (Orach Chayim 1:5-9). These parts of the davening foster a stronger sense of faith in Hashem and a basic understanding of the purpose of our creation.

The early authorities recommend reciting parshas haman every morning to remember throughout the day that Hashem provides all of our parnasah (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim Chapter 1; based on Yoma 76a).

Akeidas Yitzchak is recorded in most siddurim at this part of davening, although the majority of people do not recite it daily. Perhaps the justification of this practice lies in the fact that the Magen Avraham (1:7) records in the name of Rabbeinu Bachya (Commentary on Chumash, parshas Tzav, Vayikra 7:37) that it is insufficient to simply read the parshas akeidah; it must be studied well, something that most individuals cannot realistically do on a daily basis.

For some reason that I do not know nor have seen discussed, whereas most siddurim include parshas akeidah at this point of the davening, most do not include parshas haman here. Yet, the same sources — the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch and others — that record the importance of reciting parshas akeidah at this point of the davening mention also parshas haman. It appears that one early printed siddur began including parshas akeidah but, for whatever reason, did not include parshas haman, and the other, later printings imitated the earlier edition, something fairly common in publishing of seforim in general and of siddurim in particular.

Aseres hadibros

There is a major halachic difference between parshas haman and the akeidah, on the one hand, and the aseres hadibros on the other. In many congregations, parshas haman and the akeidah were recited together by the entire tzibur, whereas it was prohibited to recite the aseres hadibros as part of daily davening by the tzibur (Shu’t Harashba; Rema, Orach Chayim 1:5). The Gemara (Berochos 12a) prohibits this out of concern that those who do not accept authentic Judaism will claim that observing the aseres hadibros is sufficient, and it is not necessary to observe the rest of the Torah. As noted by later poskim, this concern has become much greater in today’s world than it was in earlier generations (Divrei Chamudos, Brochos 1:9; Magen Avraham 1:9). For this reason, the aseres hadibros are not printed in the siddur – since this would be equivalent to making them part of the daily prayer, which Chazal prohibited (ibid.).

Korbanospesukim

The Tur and the Shulchan Aruch both recommend reciting daily the pesukim that describe several of the morning offerings and procedures in the Beis Hamikdash. These are the Torah’s discussions about the various types of korbanos, including the processing of the terumas hadeshen (the ashes on the mizbei’ach), the tamid, olah, chatos, and ketores. It also includes discussion about the kiyor, the laver that was used many times a day by the kohanim to wash their hands and feet.

Why do we recite these passages? The Tur explains: “The recital of parshas hatamid was established on the basis of the midrash’s statement that, when there is no Beis Hamikdash, involvement in the recital of the korbanos is treated as if they were offered” (Tur Orach Chayim, Chapter 48). This important concept is based on the posuk in Hoshea (14:3) that states u’ne’shalmah parim sefaseinu, literally, our lips take the place of the bulls, which is understood by Chazal to mean that our lips, by reciting and studying the korbanos, function as a spiritual replacement for the korbanos (Yoma 86b).

Colloquially, this concept is often expressed by referring to the words of Hoshea: u’ne’shalmah parim sefaseinu. The Mishnah Berurah mentions that u’ne’shalmah parim sefaseinu means understanding the procedure – merely reciting the passages of the Torah by rote, without understanding what is being done, does not fulfill the concept.

In order to fulfill u’ne’shalmah parim sefaseinu, the early authorities cite a custom to recite a prayer after reading each of these sections of the Torah requesting, that the recital of the procedure just mentioned be accepted as if we had actually offered the korban. In many contemporary siddurim, these prayers have been moved from between the pesukim describing the offerings to between the mishnayos of the chapter of Eizehu Mekoman that explain the various korbanos. In some siddurim, you find these prayers in both places.

Standing and in public?

The acharonim disagree whether it is required to stand while reciting the parshas hatamid, the Sefer Olas Tamid and the Magen Avraham ruling that it is required, since all the stages in offering the korban tamid had to be performed while standing. (By the way, no one is ever permitted to sit in the azarah sections of the Beis Hamikdash, with the exception of a Jewish king who is descended from Dovid Hamelech [Yoma 25a et al].) However, most authorities conclude that the parshios hakorbanos may be recited while sitting – in other words, u’ne’shalmah parim sefaseinu does not require standing, notwithstanding that the korbanos, themselves, were required to be offered while standing (e.g., Elya Rabbah; Bechor Shor; Mor U’ketziyah; Shaarei Teshuvah). We see here a dispute to what extent we should treat the concept of u’ne’shalmah parim sefaseinu.

Reciting them together with the tzibur

Here is another issue in which the question is how far do we take the idea of u’ne’shalmah parim sefaseinu. Although there are some acharonim who contend that parshas hatamid should be said only together with the tzibur, since it is a public korban (Be’er Heiteiv, quoting Derech Chochmah), the consensus of poskim is that this is unnecessary.

Korbanos correspond to prayers

Another reason for the recital of korbanos results from the following Talmudic discussion. The Gemara (Berachos 26b) quotes what appears to be a dispute between early amora’im, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and Rabbi Yosi berabbi Chanina, whether the three daily tefillos were each established by one of our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, or whether they were established to correspond to the daily offerings. The Gemara’s conclusion is that both statements are true: the forefathers established the daily prayers, but, subsequently, Chazal instituted that these prayers should correspond to the korbanos. Because of this last consideration, the times of the daily prayers are linked to the times that the korbanos were offered. Therefore, we read the story of the akeidah, which emphasizes the role of Avraham and Yitzchak in our prayers, and we also study the pesukim about the different korbanos, to strengthen and highlight the relationship between the korbanos and our prayers.

Chazal regarding the korbanos

At this point, we will explore the third subsection of these introductory prayers, which I called above, “Chazal regarding the korbanos.” Many early authorities(Tur, Rema) recommend beginning the next subsection of the morning davening by reciting the following passage of Gemara (Yoma 33a), which presents the choreographed order of the morning service in the Beis Hamikdash: “Abayei presented the order in which the service was performed in the Beis Hamikdash according to the accepted tradition, following the opinion of Abba Shaul:

Tidying the large pyre on the (main) mizbei’ach (altar) precedes tidying the secondary pyre that was used to burn the ketores (incense).

Tidying the secondary pyre precedes placing the two planks of wood on the mizbei’ach. Placing the two planks of wood precedes removing the ashes from the inner mizbei’ach.

Removing these ashes precedes cleaning five lamps of the menorah.

Cleaning these five lamps precedes processing and offering the blood of the morning korban tamid.

This precedes cleaning the remaining two lamps of the menorah.

Cleaning these two lamps precedes offering the ketores.

This, in turn, precedes offering the limbs of the morning korban tamid.

Offering of the limbs precedes the meal offering (that accompanies the morning korban tamid). The meal offering precedes the chavitin (a grain korban offered daily by the kohein gadol).

The chavitin precede the wine offering (that accompanied the morning korban tamid).

The wine offering precedes the musaf offerings (of Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, or Yom Tov). The musaf offerings precede the spoons of levonah (frankincense offered on Shabbos, to permit the consumption of the lechem hapanim, the showbread).

The offering of the spoons of levonah precedes the afternoon korban tamid (Yoma 33a).

The Tur (Orach Chayim 48) then cites a prayer to be said after this passage of Gemara is recited, similar to that mentioned after the pesukim of each korban.

Subsequently, the Tur asks, “What should someone do if he wants to recite this prayer [i.e., the request that the recital of the procedure should be accepted in place of the actual korban], but he davens in a shul where the tzibur does not say it?” It appears that the Tur is bothered by the following problem: U’ne’shalmah parim sefaseinu is considered equivalent to actually offering the korbanos. If this is true, it is forbidden to recite parshas hatamid twice in the same morning [i.e., once privately, to be able to recite the special prayer, and once with the tzibur], because it is considered as if you offered the morning korban tamid twice, which is a violation of halacha (see Beis Yosef). Furthermore, reciting this prayer after the communal recitation of  the parshas hatamid omitted this prayer is inappropriate – he should not do something obviously different from what the community does.

The Tur answers that, in this situation, the person should say parshas hatamid by himself before the tzibur begins davening, and, at that time, recite the prayer requesting the acceptance of these korbanos. He should then recite parshas hatamid again together with the tzibur, since a person should not refrain from joining the tzibur. However, when he recites it together with the tzibur, he should consider it as if he is reading the Torah and not fulfilling the concept of u’ne’shalmah parim sefaseinu. This way he will avoid the concern that the second recitation of the parshas hatamid could be the equivalent of offering the korban tamid twice in the same morning.

No Abayei according to Abba Shaul

Notwithstanding that both the Tur and the Rema record reciting the statement of Abayei, this is not printed in all siddurim. Why not?

Abayei began his statement by noting that he was following the opinion of Abba Shaul. Earlier in mesechta Yoma (14b), the Gemara recorded a dispute between the Sages and Abba Shaul. According to the Sages, the beginning of the order should be as follows: organizing the main pyre of ashes, then the secondary pyre, adding the two planks to the fire, removing the ashes, offering the blood of the morning tamid, cleaning five lamps of the menorah, offering the ketores, and then cleaning the remaining two lamps. In other words, both the Sages and Abba Shaul agree that the cleaning of the menorah is interrupted by another avodah, after completing the first five lights and before cleaning the last two. The dispute between them is whether the processing of the tamid is begun before the cleaning of the menorah, or in the middle, as the interruption, and whether the offering of the ketores is inserted or is performed after the cleaning of the menorah is complete. Abayei’s statement follows Abba Shaul. Those who do recite this statement assume that, since Abayei quoted this statement, he rules like the minority opinion of Abba Shaul, in this instance, and that is the halachic conclusion (Beis Yosef).

However, the Rambam (Hilchos Temidim Umusafim 6:1, 3) and the Semag (Positive Mitzvah #192) both rule according to the Sages, the majority opinion, which means that they do not accept Abayei’s testimonial as halachic conclusion. Since Abayei’s statement is not according to the halachic conclusion, it is inappropriate to recite this statement as part of davening (see Beis Yosef). Thus, according to the Rambam and the Semag, one should not recite this passage as part of daily korbanos, whereas, according to the Tur and the Rema, one should. Whether we rule according to Abba Shaul or according to the Sages is an issue that will require the Sanhedrin to resolve, when we are ready to begin offering korbanos again, bim’heirah veyameinu.

Eizehu Mekoman

The next part of the morning prayers is Eizehu Mekoman, which is the fifth chapter of Mishnayos Zevachim. The primary reason why this is recited is in order to make sure that every man studies Mishnah every day, in fulfillment of the dictum of Chazal that a person should make sure to study every day some Mikra, some Mishnah and some Gemara (see Kiddushin 30a; Avodah Zarah 19b, as explained by Tur, Orach Chayim Chapter 50). There is no necessity to add more pesukim to make sure that someone studies some Mikra every day since, in the course of our davening, we recite many passages of Tanach, so Mikra is recited daily. But to make sure that everyone studies Mishnah every day, we recite Eizehu Mekoman.

This chapter was chosen as the representative of Mishnah for several reasons: First, there is no overt dispute in the entire chapter. In other words, although there are statements in this Mishnah about which various tanna’im disagree, no disputing opinions are mentioned. Thus, this chapter is purely Mishnah in the sense that it is completely halacha pesukah, accepted as halachic conclusion (Baruch She’amar; see Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:11).

A second reason why this chapter was chosen as the representative of Mishnah is because it discusses the laws of the korbanos, making it very appropriate to be recited before davening.

Yet a third reason why this chapter of Mishnah was chosen is because it appears to be very old, dating back to the era of the first Beis Hamikdash. This is based on the fact that it refers to Bein Habadim¸which did not exist in the second Beis Hamikdash nor in the last years of the first Beis Hamikdash. The badim (the poles of the aron) were required to always be attached to the aron hakodesh, and Yoshiyahu Hamelech hid the aron so that they would not be captured by the Babylonians when the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed.

Rabbi Yishmael says

I mentioned above the statement of the Gemara that a man is required to study some Gemara every day. According to the Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:11), Gemara means understanding and analyzing the meaning and reason behind the laws. To fulfill the daily study of Gemara, the recital of the passage beginning with the words, “Rabbi Yishmael says” was introduced into the daily davening. This passage is the introduction to the midrash halacha called the Sifra or the Toras Kohanim (these are two names for the same work), which is the halachic midrash on the book of Vayikra.

The Sifra is an unusual work among the midrashim of Chazal in that it is completely halacha. (Although Mechilta and Sifrei are both halachic midrashim, they contain substantive parts of agadah, non-halachic material.) The Malbim wrote two different magnum opus works on the Sifra. He intended to write an extensive commentary to explain how Chazal’s method of deriving the halachos in Vayikra is based on a very meticulous understanding of the pesukim. However, after he wrote the commentary on only two pesukim, he writes that he realized that a commentary of this nature would become completely unwieldly – it would be an encyclopedia, rather than a commentary; too long and tedious for anyone to read. Instead, he wrote a different lengthy essay, which he called Ayeles Hashachar, explaining all the principles involved in explaining the pesukim correctly. Then, throughout the rest of his commentary to the Sifra, he refers the reader to the place in Ayeles Hashachar in which he explained the principle or principles involved in explaining the particular passage of Sifra. In Ayeles Hashachar, the Malbim concludes that there are 613 principles involved to derive the correct halachic interpretation of the pesukim.

Although a regular student of the Gemara will be very familiar with many of the rules that Rabbi Yishmael shares with us, a few of these rules are rarely encountered. An in-depth explanation of the beraysa of Rabbi Yishmael is beyond the scope of  this article. Perhaps I will devote an entire future article to explaining Rabbi Yishmael’s thirteen principles. Those interested in more detailed explanations of these principles and examples are referred to the commentary of Rav Hirsch on the siddur.

Conclusion

The purpose of many of our korbanos is to assist us in our teshuvah process.The Gemara states: “Come and see, how different are the qualities of The Holy One, Blessed be He, from mortal man. Someone who offends his friend is uncertain whether his friend will forgive him. And, even if he is fortunate that his friend forgives him, he does not know how much it will cost to appease his friend. However, in reference to The Holy One, Blessed is He – should a man sin against Him in private, all the sinner needs to do is to beg Him for forgiveness, as the posuk says, Take with you words and return to Hashem (Hoshea 14:3).

Furthermore, the Gemara states, “Teshuvah is so great that because of one individual who does teshuvah, the entire world is forgiven, as the Torah says, with their teshuvah I will heal them… because My anger against them is retracted. Note that the posuk does not state, “My anger is retracted “against him,” but against them” (Yoma 86b) – all of them.

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Birkas Kohanim

Question #1: Why is this bracha different?

“Why is the bracha for duchening so different from all the other brochos we recite before we perform mitzvos?”

Question #2: Hoarse kohein

“If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, how does he fulfill the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Question #3: The chazzan duchening

“If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

Answer:

I have written other articles about the mitzvah of duchening; this article will deal with a few specific issues not mentioned in the other articles.

First of all, I should explain the various names of this beautiful mitzvah. Ashkenazim usually colloquially refer to the mitzvah as duchening. The word “duchen” means a platform, and refers to the raised area in front of the aron kodesh on which the kohanim traditionally stand when they recite these blessings. However, in many shullen today, there is no platform in front of the aron kodesh, and, even when there is, in many shullen there are more kohanim than there is room for them on the duchen. In all these instances, the mitzvah is performed with the kohanim standing on the floor alongside the wall of the shul that has the aron kodesh, facing the people.

There are at least two other ways of referring to this mitzvah. One way of referring to the mitzvah is “Birkas Kohanim,”which is very descriptive of the mitzvah. I will use this term throughout this article, because it avoids confusion.

Nesi’as kapayim

The Mishnah and the Shulchan Aruch call this mitzvah by yet a third term, nesi’as kapayim, which means literally “raising the palms,” a description of the position in which the kohanim hold their hands while reciting these blessings. According to accepted halacha, the kohanim raise their hands to shoulder level, and each kohein holds his hands together. (There are some mekubalim who raise their hands directly overhead while reciting the Birkas Kohanim [Divrei Shalom 128:2]. However, this is a very uncommon practice.) Based on a midrash, the Tur rules that, while he recites the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein should hold his hands in a way that there are five spaces between his fingers. This is done by pressing, on each hand, the index finger to the middle finger and the small finger to the ring finger. This creates two openings — one between the middle finger and the ring finger on each hand. Another two are created between the index finger and thumb on each hand. The fifth opening is between the thumbs. There are various ways for a kohein to position his fingers such that he has a space between his thumbs. I know of several different methods, and I have never found an authoritative source that states that one way is preferable over any other. Most kohanim, myself included, follow the way that they were taught by their father.

An unusual bracha:

Immediately prior to beginning Birkas Kohanimbracha, the kohanim recite a birkas hamitzvah, as we do prior to performing most mitzvos. The text of the bracha is: Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah. “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon, and commanded us to bless His people, Yisroel, with love.”

Two aspects of this bracha are different from the standard structure of brochos that we recite prior to fulfilling mitzvos. The first change is that, instead of the usual text that we say, asher kideshanu bemitzvosav ve’tzivanu, “Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us,” the kohanim leave out the reference to “His mitzvos” and instead say “Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon.” The second change is that the kohanim not only describe the mitzvah that they are performing — that Hashem “commanded us to bless his people Yisroel” –but they add a qualitative description, “with love.”

The fact that the kohanim make reference to Aharon’s sanctity is, itself, not unusual. It is simply atypical for us to recite or hear this bracha since, unfortunately in our contemporary world, we have no other mitzvos for which we use this text. However, when we are again all tehorim and when we have a Beis Hamikdash, every time a kohein performs a mitzvah that only a kohein can perform, such as eating terumah, korbanos or challah, donning the bigdei kehunah in the Beis Hamikdash (Artzos Hachayim, Eretz Yehudah 18:1, page 81b), or performing the mitzvos of offering korbanos, he recites a bracha that includes this reference. Unfortunately, since we are all tamei and we have no Beis Hamikdash, a kohein cannot perform these mitzvos today, and therefore we do not recite this bracha text at any other time.

“With love”

The other detail in this bracha that is highly unusual is the statement that the mitzvah is performed be’ahavah,“with love.” No other mitzvah includes this detail in its bracha, and, in general, the brochos recited performing mitzvos do not include details about how the mitzvos are performed. For example, the bracha prior to kindling the Shabbos or Chanukah lights says simply lehadlik neir shel Shabbos or lehadlik neir shel Chanukah,and does not add that we do so “with wicks and oil.” Similarly, note that the bracha recited before we pick up and shake the lulav and esrog does not even mention the esrog, aravos and hadasim, and says, simply, al netilas lulav. Again, the bracha for washing our hands is simply al netilas yadayim without mentioning any of the important details of the mitzvah. Yet, the bracha recited prior to Birkas Kohanim includes the word be’ahavah, with love. Why is this so?

Let us examine the original passage of the Gemara (Sotah 39a) that teaches us about the text of this bracha: “The disciples of Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua (who was a kohein) asked him, ‘Because of what practices of yours did you merit longevity?’ He answered them, ‘I never used a shul as a shortcut, I never stepped over the heads of the holy nation (Rashi explains that this means that when people were sitting on the floor in the Beis Hamedrash, as was common in his day, he never walked over them, but either arrived before everyone else did, or else he sat outside) and I never recited the nesi’as kapayim without first reciting a bracha.’”

The Gemara then asks, “What bracha is recited prior to Birkas Kohanim? Answered Rabbi Zeira, quoting Rav Chisda, asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah.

Thus, we see that the text that we recite prior to Birkas Kohanim is exactly the way the Gemara records it, and that the word “be’ahavah” is part of the original text. Why is this required?

The Be’er Sheva, a European gadol of the late 16th-early 17th century, asks this question. To quote him (in his commentary, Sotah 39a): “Where is it mentioned or even hinted in the Torah that the kohein must fulfill this mitzvah ‘with love’? The answer is that when the Torah commanded the kohanim concerning this mitzvah, it says Emor lahem, ‘Recite this blessing to the Jewish people,’ spelling the word emor with a vov, the full spelling of the word, when it is usually spelled without a vov. Both the Midrash Tanchuma and the Midrash Rabbah explain that there is an important reason why this word is spelled ‘full.’ ‘The Holy One, blessed is He, said to the kohanim that they should bless the Jewish people not because they are ordered to do so, and they want to complete the minimum requirement of that “order,” as if it were “forced labor” and therefore they say it swiftly. On the contrary, they should bless the Jews with much focus and the desire that the brochos all be effective – with full love and full heart.’”

We see from this Gemara that this aspect of the mitzvah, that the kohanim bless the people because they want to and not because they are required to, was so important to Chazal that they included an allusion to this in the text of the bracha, something that is never done elsewhere!

Brochos cause longevity

There are several puzzling questions germane to this small passage of Gemara that we quoted above. What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s three practices that he singled them out as being the spiritual causes of his longevity? The commentaries explain that each of these three acts were personal chumros that Rabbi Elazar, himself one of the last talmidim of Rabbi Akiva and a rebbe of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, practiced (Keren Orah, Meromei Sadeh et al). Since our topic is Birkas Kohanim, we will address only that practice: What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s practice of reciting a bracha before performing the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim? Didn’t every kohein do the same? And, if so, why did the other kohanim not achieve the longevity that he did?

The Keren Orah commentary notes that the Gemara quotes the amora, Rav Zeira, as the source for the bracha on Birkas Kohanim, implying that the bracha on Birkas Kohanim was not standardized until his time, and he lived well over a hundred years after Rabbi Elazar’s passing. This implies that a bracha on this mitzvah was not necessarily recited during the era of the tanna’im and early amora’im. The Keren Orah suggests the reason for this was because Birkas Kohanim itself is a blessing, and we do not recite a bracha prior to reciting birkas hamazon or birkas haTorah, even though they themselves are mitzvos. Notwithstanding this consideration, Rabbi Elazar was so enthusiastic about blessing the people that he insisted on reciting a bracha before performing Birkas Kohanim. This strong desire to bless people was rewarded by his having many extra years to continue blessing them (Maharal).

Notwithstanding that the mitzvah is such a beautiful one, technically, the kohein is required to recite the Birkas Kohanim only when he is asked to do so, during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. We will see shortly what this means practically.

Hoarse kohein

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, how does he fulfill the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Let us examine this question thoroughly, starting from its sources in the Gemara: “One beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu (‘this is how you should bless’): face to face… therefore the posuk says Emor lahem (say to them), as a person talks to his friend. Another beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu, in a loud voice. Perhaps it means that the bracha should be said quietly, therefore the posuk says Emor lahem, as a person talks to his friend” (Sotah 38a).

This derives from the words of the posuk Koh sevarchu and Emor lahem two different laws. The first is that the audience receiving the kohanim’s bracha should be facing them during the Birkas Kohanim. (In error, some people turn around while the kohanim recite Birkas Kohanim, in order to make sure that they do not look at the kohanim’s hands. It is correct that they should not look at the hands of the kohanim who are duchening, but they can look down to avoid this problem, and, anyway, most kohanim cover their hands with their talis while duchening.)

The second law derived from these pesukim is that the kohein should recite the Birkas Kohanim loudly enough so that the people can hear him. Although there are kohanim who shout the words of the Birkas Kohanim, the continuation of the Gemara clearly explains that be’kol ram, in a loud voice, means simply loud enough for the people to hear the kohein. However, someone whose voice is so hoarse that people cannot hear him is not permitted to recite Birkas Kohanim and should leave the sanctuary part of the shul before the chazzan recites the word retzei in his repetition of shemoneh esrei (Mishnah Berurah 128:53).

Why retzei?

Why should the kohein leave the shul before retzei?

Some mitzvos aseh, such as donning tefillin daily, making kiddush, or hearing shofar, are inherent requirements. There isn’t any way to avoid being obligated to fulfill these mitzvos. On the other hand, there are mitzvos whose requirement is dependent on circumstances. For example, someone who does not live in a house is not obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah. Living in a house, which most of us do, creates the obligation to install a mezuzah on its door posts. Someone who lives in a house and fails to place a mezuzah on the required doorposts violates a mitzvas aseh.

Similarly, the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim is not an inherent requirement for the kohein. However, when someone asks the kohein or implies to him that he should perform the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein is now required to do so, and, should he fail to, he will violate a mitzvas aseh.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:2) rules that a kohein who remains in shul is required to recite Birkas Kohanim if (1) he hears the chazzan say the word kohanim, (2) someone tells him to ascend the duchen or (3) someone tells him to wash his hands (in preparation for the Birkas Kohanim). Any of these three actions summon the kohanim to perform the mitzvah, and that is why they create a requirement on the kohein. A kohein for whom it is difficult to raise his arms to recite the Birkas Kohanim should exit the shul before the chazzan says the word kohanim (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 128:4 and Mishnah Berurah). The Magen Avraham and the Elyah Rabbah conclude that it is preferred if he exits before the chazzan begins the word retzei. The Shulchan Aruch mentions that the custom is for any kohein who is not reciting Birkas Kohanim to remain outside until the Birkas Kohanim is completed.

Washing hands

The Shulchan Aruch we just quoted rules that telling a kohein to wash his hands creates the same obligation to recite Birkas Kohanim as directly summoning him to recite the Birkas Kohanim. Why is that so?

This is because the Gemara rules that “any kohein who did not wash his hands should not perform nesi’as kapayim.” The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah Uvirkas Kohanim 15:5) rules that the washing before Birkas Kohanim is similar to what the kohanim do prior to performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash. For this reason, he rules that their hands should be washed until their wrists. We rule that this is done even on Yom Kippur, notwithstanding that, otherwise, we are not permitted to wash the entire hand on Yom Kippur (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 128:6). Several acharonim rule that, since Birkas Kohanim is a form of avodah, washing before performing this mitzvah includes other requirements, such as washing with a cup, with clear water, and with at least a revi’is (about three ounces) of water (see Magen Avraham, Yeshuos Yaakov, Shulchan Shelomoh and Mishnah Berurah).

In many shullen, a sink is installed near the duchen, so that the kohanim can wash immediately before Birkas Kohanim. Others have a practice that water and a basin are brought to the front of the shul for this purpose. These customs have a source in rishonim and poskim and should definitely be encouraged. Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. Kol) concludes that the kohein should wash his hands immediately before ascending the duchen. He rules that the kohein should wash his hands within twenty-two amos, a distance of less than forty feet, of the duchen. The Magen Avrohom (128:9) rules according to this Tosafos, and adds that, according to Tosafos, since the kohanim wash their hands before retzei, the chazzan should recite the bracha of retzei rapidly. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohein washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos, and, therefore, retzei should be recited as quickly as possible. The Biur Halacha (128:6 s.v. Chozrim) adds that the kohanim should not converse between washing their hands and reciting Birkas Kohanim, because this also constitutes a hefsek.

The chazzan duchening

At this point, let us examine the third of our opening questions: “If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

This question is the subject of a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Pri Chodosh. According to the Shulchan Aruch, if the chazzan is a kohein, he should not recite Birkas Kohanim, unless he is the only kohein. The reason he should not recite Birkas Kohanim is out of concern that he might get confused and not remember the continuation of the davening. The Pri Chodosh disagrees, concluding that this was a concern only when the chazzan led the services from memory, which, although very common in earlier era, is today quite uncommon. If the koheinchazzan is using a siddur, such that Birkas Kohanim will not confuse him from continuing the davening correctly, he can recite Birkas Kohanim

In chutz la’aretz, the accepted practice in this halacha follows the Shulchan Aruch, whereas in Eretz Yisroel, customs vary in different locales. In Yerushalayim and most other places, the accepted practice follows the Pri Chodosh, and the chazzan performs Birkas Kohanim.

When the chazzan does recite Birkas Kohanim, he turns around to face the people, recites Birkas Kohanim, and then turns back to complete the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. He is even permitted to walk to the front of the shul from his place in order to recite Birkas Kohanim should he be leading the services from the middle of the shul rather than the front.

Conclusion

As a kohein myself, I find duchening to be one of the most beautiful mitzvos. We are indeed so fortunate to have a commandment to bless our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. All the more so, the nusach of the bracha is to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohein must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.

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The Cheese Factory

Driving on a secondary route after visiting an ice cream plant, I noticed a small cheese factory. At the time, I had no experience in the practical kashrus arrangements regarding the manufacture of cheese and whey in modern factories, but I was familiar with the topics as they are discussed in the Gemara, rishonim and poskim.

Being by nature a curious person, and also, perhaps more significantly, having a few hours to spare, I decided to drop in on the factory, hoping that perhaps I would be offered a tour of the production. I figured that if I didn’t ask, I would certainly not get a tour, and if I did get a tour, perhaps I would learn how cheese and whey are manufactured, and what needs to be done to make the products properly kosher.

Hashem made cow’s milk contain all the nutrients necessary for a newborn calf to grow big and strong until it is ready to be self-supporting by eating grass for its nutrition. The major components of milk are lactose, or milk sugar, which provides the carbohydrates a young calf needs; casein and other proteins; cream (the fat component); vitamins and minerals, including calcium for healthy bones; and about 90% water, which keeps the other ingredients in suspension. Manufacturing cheese requires precipitating (separating) the casein out of the milk and then coagulating it. These processes may involve use of a “starter” and “rennet.” The coagulated part of the milk, called the curd, separates from the rest, which is the whey. The curd is pressed into a solid block – the shape of the cheese.

The Gemara records many reasons why Chazal prohibited using cheese when a Jew did not participate in its manufacture or did not own its raw materials. In practice, having a Jew participate in the manufacture of cheese is usually accomplished by having a mashgiach add the starter and the rennet into the milk batch. Such cheese is called gevinas Yisroel (literally, cheese of a Jew), whereas gevinas akum (literally, cheese of a non-Jew) is the name for the type of cheese that Chazal prohibited. (Whether we resolve the prohibition of gevinas akum by having a Jew participate in the production, or by having him own the product, is a lengthy topic discussed in a different article available on this website.)

I pulled into the driveway of the cheese factory and saw a billboard attached to the sidewall of the factory, advertising the retail products that the company manufactured – cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, mozzarella cheese and a few similar varieties. As I would soon find out, the company also did some private-label selling, which they did not advertise on a billboard, and also sold some industrial products, specifically, various forms of whey.

I no longer remember whether I had noticed that the labels of the products on the billboard had a large letter K on the package. Of course, we all know that this is not a registered kashrus symbol. However, there is a segment of the population, rapidly disappearing, of traditionally observant Jews who assume that a large K on a product means that it is kosher.

I was pleasantly surprised when the receptionist quickly ushered me into the office of the plant manager, who was also the company owner. I told him that I was interested in knowing the details of cheese production and happened to drive past his factory this day. I expected him to brush me off, telling me that he did not want to reveal any of his trade secrets. I was quite surprised that he was willing to walk me through the plant. Perhaps I looked very honest; perhaps he had no trade secrets to hide; perhaps small-town people are less suspicious; perhaps his pride in his business got the best of him. I just know that he was very willing to spend a considerable amount of time showing me around his facility, explaining all the details of production and answering all my questions, eagerly and fully.

I actually did get a very good education that day on how “hard cheese” is made. Subsequently, I also learned some side curiosities: for example, that true Italian mozzarella cheese is not made from cow’s milk, but from the milk of a water buffalo. (For the kosher consumer, it is good that you can make mozzarella from cow’s milk, because I have never seen anyone in the United States milk a water buffalo, although it is a kosher animal. It is commonly milked today in Italy, and I know that this could be arranged in Israel. Nevertheless, I am unaware of anyone who sells cholov Yisroel buffalo milk.)

My visit over, I thanked the plant manager for his wonderful tour, still curious why he had received me so nicely, and attributing it to my charisma. But then, I found out that he had an ulterior motive.

“You must be a rabbi,” he said. I guess my beard didn’t look too Amish. “I am in need of a new certifying rabbi. Could you help me?”

He then produced a letter from a nursing home in Brooklyn. The letter verified that the cheese produced by his factory was kosher. I assumed that the nursing home had a certifying rabbi, who also certified cheese factories and other facilities, although I saw no indication that any of the rules necessary to avoid the prohibition of gevinas akum were observed. This would usually require the presence of an on-site frum individual who added the ingredients that make the cheese form. Another option, rarely used, also existed: That the rabbi had arranged that he was a partial owner of the products being manufactured.

Could you be our new rabbi?

The owner/plant manager explained. “Rabbi Levine* certified our plant for many years. His fee was much lower than any other quoted to us. He used to visit the factory once a year, ask a few questions and collect his check. A few years ago, his wife died and, shortly thereafter, he moved into an assisted living facility. He still used to visit once a year, although it was quite obvious that he was getting on in years. The last two years, he contacted us, and we mailed him his annual fee. But our certification is now running out, and we have been trying to reach him, unsuccessfully. We do not even know if he is still alive! Could you be our new rabbi?”

Much as I would have liked to be makir tov to the factory owner for educating me about the production of kosher cheese, he was not interested in making the changes necessary for his cheese to be kosher according to any standard. I never met Rabbi Levine, but he was clearly out of his league in issuing a hechsher. I am unaware of any accepted heter that would allow this cheese to be considered kosher on the basis of its ingredients with no Jewish involvement in the production.

Permitted non-Jewish cheese?

In the times of the rishonim, there were areas of Europe, particularly in Italy and parts of France, with a long-established practice to be lenient regarding the consumption of the local cheese of non-Jews. Several rishonim quote this lenient position in the name of the Ge’onei Narvona. The lenience was based on the fact that the Jews knew the ingredients used by the gentile cheesemakers, and knew that none of the concerns mentioned by the Gemara was germane. The cheese was set with “flowers,” some variety of plant-based enzymes. I am told that, to this day, there are cheeses in some parts of Europe that use an enzyme found naturally in a variety of thistle. Perhaps this was the type of cheese that these communities used.

However, most rishonim rejected this reasoning, contending that the prohibition against non-Jewish cheese exists even when none of the original reasons applies. They contend that the prohibition has a halachic status of davar she’be’minyon, a rabbinic injunction that remains binding even when the reason the takanah was introduced no longer applies, until and unless a larger and more authoritative body declares the original injunction invalid. Since a more authoritative beis din never rescinded the prohibition on non-Jewish cheese, it remains – even when none of the reasons apply (Rambam, Ma’achalos Asuros 3:4; Rashba, Toras Habayis page 90b; Semag, Mitzvah 223; Tur, Yoreh Deah 115).

The Shulchan Aruch rules according to the majority opinion that there is no halachic basis for those communities that permitted use of the local non-Jewish cheese. The Rema follows a more lenient view, permitting use of non-Jewish cheese in a place where one can ascertain that there was a long-established custom to permit it. Therefore, no one in today’s world would be permitted to use non-Jewish cheese, with the possible exception of an Italian community that can prove a tradition dating back at least eight hundred years.

Gevinas Yisroel by observation

The Rema contends that a Jew observing the production of cheese makes the cheese gevinas Yisroel, which is, by definition, not subject to the prohibition of gevinas akum. In his opinion, this is true even when the milk and curdling agents are all owned by a non-Jew, and even when non-Jews performed all the steps in the cheese production.

The Shach, however, takes tremendous issue with this approach of the Rema, contending that if a non-Jew owns the milk, the acid, and the enzyme, and he places the acid or enzyme into the milk, the resultant cheese is prohibited as gevinas akum, even if an observant Jew supervised the entire production.

Gevinas Yisroel by ownership

According to some contemporary poskim, there are ways to make cheese kosher by making a Jew the owner of the product. If one follows this opinion, you could create some complicated kinyanim and, thereby, make the cheese gevinas Yisroel, fully kosher.

The Noda Biyehudah (Shu’t Noda Biyehudah II Orach Chayim #37) discusses a case where a Jew is “renting the schvag” of a non-Jew for the purpose of producing cheese. I do not know the meaning of the word schvag, and the many people I have asked do not know either (although some of them insisted otherwise). From the context in which the Noda Biyehudah uses the term, it seems that this was a Slavic word for a cheese factory. The case is that the Jew is contracting with the non-Jew to make cheese for the Jew in the gentile’s facility.

The Noda Biyehudah contends that when the Jew intends to purchase the cheese and also supplies the rennet, the Jew is already considered the owner of the cheese. Under these circumstances, there is no problem of gevinas akum, even according to the Shach. The Noda Biyehudah concludes that, under these circumstances, a non-Jew may produce the cheese without it becoming prohibited.

Another possibility, suggested by my good friend Rav Sander Goldberg, is that the word schvag was misspelled in the printed editions of the Noda Biyehudah, but refers to Schwab or Swabia, the hilly southwestern region of Germany that borders Switzerland, which was well known for its production of dairy products. Several early authorities, including Sha’arei Dura (#78) and the Maharil (#35), make reference to the heter of the שוואבין to allow non-Jewish butter. When the Noda Biyehudah refers to the שוכרים ,השוואגין he may be referring to Jews from the region of Swabia who would peddle cheeses; they would bring their own rennet, made from the stomach of a kosher slaughtered calf (keivah), to make the cheese. The Noda Biyehudah’s point is that even though the transaction between the non-Jews (who owned the cows) and the Jews (who brought the keivah) wasn’t finalized until after the cheese was made, and therefore technically the cheese still was owned by a non-Jew, nevertheless this is considered enough of a partnership to avoid the problem of gevinas akum.

Based on the Noda Biyehudah, the Orthodox Union (OU) once entertained the possibility of considering cheese as gevinas Yisroel on the basis that the mashgiach would own the rennet. However, they reached the following conclusion: “Not everyone agrees to the idea of the Jew owning the rennet. Rav Belsky feels that the type of scenario in which this is or would be done [having the mashgiach do a kinyan on the rennet] is not proper, as, in order for this to work, the cheese must be made for the Jew, rather than him technically having a kinyan in the rennet, with sale of the cheese to others. He [Rav Belsky] says that this is what the Noda Biyehudah meant: The Noda Biyehudah is discussing a case where the Jews rented the cheese plant, (which is how he understood the word schvag) and plan on buying the finished cheeses. In that case, the Noda Biyehudah says that the cheese is permitted. So he’s only saying that owning the rennet suffices where that gives the Jew a partial ownership in the cheese, as a first step towards taking full possession. As such, the Noda Biyehudah’s approach applies only in cases where the Jew now has a partial ownership and will later have full ownership, and there’s no basis for extending it to cases where the Jew really has no ownership and will eventually have even less.

“Both Rav Belsky and Rav Schachter accepted this argument that the Noda Biyehudah’s approach doesn’t apply in this case.”

In conclusion, we have suggested four possible ways to avoid the prohibition of gevinas akum, although some of these approaches are disputed:

1. A Jew (mashgiach)supervises the entire production of the cheese.

2. A Jew adds the rennet and starter, which causes the manufacture of the cheese.

3. A Jew is a proper partial owner of the milk from which the cheese is made.

4. A Jew supplies the rennet for the manufacture of the cheese and maintains partial ownership over the product.

I understand that, years later, this company did decide to produce properly kosher cheeses. I am glad.

* Name is changed.

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What Is a Tree?

Question #1:

Eggplants grow on a woody stem. Does this make the eggplant a tree and prohibit the fruit that grows during its first three years as orlah or not? Although this idea may seem strange to most people, at least one prominent posek held that eggplant is prohibited as orlah.

Question #2:

What is the correct beracha to recite when smelling carnations, lilies, or mint?

Question #3:

What is the correct beracha to recite before eating papaya, cane sugar, or raspberries?

Question #4:

May someone plant tomatoes in his vineyard in Eretz Yisroel?

Although these questions seem completely unrelated, each query revolves around the same issue: What is the halachic definition of a tree?

It is usually easy to identify a tree. We know the obvious characteristics that define oak and apple trees, and it is clear that trees differ from plants that grow in a vegetable patch. However, from a halachic standpoint it is not always obvious whether many of Hashem’s botanical wonders are trees or not.

It is critical to determine what fits the definition of a tree in order to clarify the following halachic issues:

1. What beracha one recites on its fruit.

2. What beracha one recites on its fragrance.

3. Whether the prohibition of orlah applies to its fruit.

4. How severe is the prohibition to destroy it (bal tashchis).

5. There are several agricultural halachos concerning kelayim, shemittah, and maaser, all of which are relevant only in Eretz Yisroel.

Let us clarify these five areas of halacha before we discuss the main focus of our article, in order to understand the ramifications of why we must know which plants are considered trees.

1. What beracha one recites on its fruit.

As the Mishnah teaches, the beracha before eating the fruit of a tree is borei pri ha’eitz, whereas the beracha on fruit that grows from the ground, such as peas, beans, cucumbers, and melons, is borei pri ha’adamah. (The botanical definition of a fruit is the fleshy part [technically, the developed ovary] of the plant that nourishes the developing seed. Many of the foods that we colloquially call “vegetables,” are in reality “fruits of the ground.”) Thus, it is important to ascertain how certain fruits such as bananas, papayas, and berries grow in order to determine whether they grow on what is halachically classified as a tree, in which case their beracha is ha’eitz, or whether the plant upon which they grow is not a tree and the correct beracha is ha’adamah.

2. What beracha one recites on its fragrance.

Chazal established five different berachos on fragrances, one of which is “borei atzei besamim,” “He who created pleasant-smelling wood (or trees),” and another, “borei isvei besamim,” “He who created pleasant-smelling grasses.” Just as one must recite the correct beracha on a food before eating it, so it is important to recite the correct beracha on a fragrance before smelling it. We will see later that whether the closest English translation of atzei besamim is pleasant-smelling wood or pleasant-smelling trees depends on an interesting dispute.

Determining whether the correct beracha is atzei besamim or isvei besamim is even more significant than determining whether the correct beracha is borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah for the following reason: If one recites borei pri ha’adamah on a fruit that should have been borei pri ha’eitz, one fulfills the minimal requirement bedei’eved (after the fact) and should not recite an additional beracha of borei pri ha’eitz. The reason for this is that every tree grows from the ground — thus praising Hashem for “creating the fruit of the ground” when eating a fruit that grew on a tree is not inaccurate. Therefore, someone who is uncertain whether a certain fruit is “of the tree” or “of the ground” should recite borei pri ha’adamah before eating it.

However, when in doubt whether to recite atzei besamim or isvei besamim on a specific fragrance, one may not recite either beracha. This is because trees and grasses are mutually exclusive categories — if something is a grass, it is not a tree and vice versa. Thus, reciting the beracha praising Hashem for creating pleasant-smelling grasses before smelling a tree is a beracha levatalah, a beracha said in vain, because it is inaccurate.

When someone is uncertain whether a plant is considered a tree or a grass, he should recite a third beracha, borei minei besamim, “He who created types of pleasant-smelling items,” even though this is certainly not the optimal beracha on this fragrance. This is equivalent to reciting the beracha of shehakol before eating an apple. One has fulfilled the mitzvah, albeit not in the optimal way, since an apple “deserves” a more specific praise.

3. Whether the prohibition of orlah applies to its fruit.

The Torah prohibits eating fruit that grew within the first three years of a tree’s life. Thus, if a particular plant is a tree, the fruit produced in its first three years is prohibited; if it is not a tree, the fruit may be eaten immediately.

Although orlah is an agricultural mitzvah, it applies outside Eretz Yisroel. However, there is a major difference between orlah on fruits that grow in Eretz Yisroel and those that grow in chutz la’aretz. In chutz la’aretz only fruit that is definitely orlah is prohibited, and one may eat fruit that is questionably orlah. This fact has major halachic ramifications. There is also a mitzvah of re’vai that requires redeeming the fruit of the fourth year. Ashkenazim follow the ruling that in chutz la’aretz the laws of re’vai apply only to grapes (Rema and Gra, Yoreh Deah 294:7), whereas Sefardim require the laws of re’vai on all fruit trees.

4. How severe is the prohibition to destroy it (bal tashchis).

Destroying a fruit-bearing tree without gaining benefit in the process is prohibited min HaTorah. Although one may not destroy anything without purpose, the Rambam rules that destroying a tree is a more serious prohibition (Hilchos Melachim 6:8, 10). Some poskim explain that only destroying a tree is prohibited min HaTorah, whereas destroying other items, including plants, is prohibited only miderabbanan, and therefore would have some leniencies.

5. There are several agricultural halachos concerning kelayim in a vineyard (kil’ei hakerem), shemittah, and maaser, all of which are relevant only in Eretz Yisroel. There are also halachos related to grafting one species onto the stock of another (harkavas ilan), which applies equally in Eretz Yisroel and in Chutz LaAretz.

One may not plant vegetables in a vineyard in Eretz Yisroel because of the prohibition of kil’ei hakerem, mixing species in a vineyard (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 5:7), although one may plant trees in a vineyard (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 5:6). In addition, if something is categorized as an edible plant, one must be careful not to plant it too close to another edible plant because of kil’ei zera’im, mixing species when planting. This mitzvah does not apply to trees.

OTHER LAWS

How one determines the year in which a plant grows differs between trees and plants. The cut-off point for determining the years of tree fruits is usually determined by Tu Bishvat, whereas for plants it is Rosh Hashanah. This affects the halachos of maaser and of shemittah.

In addition, which year of the maaser cycle a fruit belongs to is determined by whether its chanatah, which refers to a stage early in the fruit’s development, took place before Tu Bishvat or after; for a plant, it is determined by whether it is harvested before Rosh Hashanah. Furthermore, a plant that grew uncultivated during the shemittah year would be prohibited because of the prohibition of “sefichin,” whereas the fruit of a tree would not be affected by this concern.

We now understand why it is important to determine whether a particular plant qualifies as a tree or not.

WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A TREE?

The Random House dictionary I have on my desk defines a tree as, “a plant having a permanently woody main stem or trunk, ordinarily growing to a considerable height, and usually developing branches at some distance from the ground.” If we exclude the qualifiers, “ordinarily” and “usually,” then this definition does not consider a grape vine to be a tree since it lacks height if not supported and does not develop branches some distance from the ground. Since we know that halacha considers grapes to be fruits of the tree, this definition will not suffice. On the other hand, if we broaden the definition of “tree” to include all plants that have a “permanently woody stem or trunk” we will not only include grape vines, but also probably include eggplant, pineapple, and lavender which all have woody stems. On the other hand, several plants, such as the date palm and papaya, fit the Random House definition as a tree and yet grow very differently from typical trees. Are all of these plants trees?

Having demonstrated that the dictionary definition of tree is insufficient for our purposes, let us explore sources that may give us a halachic definition. The Gemara (Berachos 40a) states that one recites borei pri ha’eitz if “when you remove the fruit, the gavza remains and produces more fruit; but if the gavza does not remain, the beracha is not borei pri ha’eitz, but borei pri ha’adamah.” What is the “gavza” that remains to bear more fruit from one year to the next?

Among the major commentaries, we find three interpretations. Rashi translates gavza as branch, meaning that any plant whose branches fall off one year and then grow again the next is not considered a tree, even if the root and trunk (or stem) remain from one year to the next. There are berries whose stem remains from one year to next, but whose branches fall off during the winter (Tehillah Ledavid, Chapter 203). According to Rashi, the correct beracha on these berries is ha’adamah.

A second opinion, that of Tosafos, explains that “gavza” is the trunk or stem of the plant that remains from one year to the next and produces fruit (Ritva, Sukkah 35a). A plant whose root remains from one year to the next, but not its stem, is not a tree.

Many perennial fruits do not have a trunk that remains from year to year. (A perennial is a plant whose root remains from one year to the next and grows each year without replanting.) A banana plant is a perennial whose entire structure above ground dies each year and then grows again the next year from the root. According to Tosafos, bananas are not trees but plants; therefore their beracha is ha’adamah, not ha’eitz, and there is no orlah prohibition.

A third opinion, that of the Rosh and the Tur (Orach Chayim, Chapter 203), explains that any perennial is considered a tree and its beracha is ha’eitz. If the plant must be replanted each year (i.e., it is an annual) to produce fruit, then the beracha is ha’adamah, not ha’eitz. According to this understanding, the correct beracha on strawberries and bananas is ha’eitz since they are both perennials (not annuals), whereas according to the other opinions, the beracha on strawberries and bananas is ha’adamah.

The Shulchan Aruch and the Rema (Orach Chayim 302:2) rule that one recites borei pri ha’eitz if there is some type of stem that remains from year to year and produces fruit, but that the beracha is ha’adamah on perennials whose stem dies each year. However, it is disputed whether the reason we recite ha’adamah is because the Shulchan Aruch concluded like Tosafos, or because it is uncertain whether the beracha should be ha’eitz (like the Rosh and the Tur), or ha’adamah (like Tosafos), and we recite ha’adamah because of this uncertainty (Maamar Mordechai 203:3). There are several halachic ramifications that result from this question as I will explain later.

IS A TREE ALWAYS A TREE?

Is the definition of a tree the same for the halachos of orlah and kelayim as it is for berachos?

Tosafos (Berachos 40a) cites a passage in Talmud Yerushalmi (Kelayim 5:7) that something may not qualify for the definition of a tree for the laws of berachos and yet be considered a tree for the laws of kelayim, whereas the Ritva (Sukkah 35a) contends that the definition of the Gemara (Berachos 40a) for berachos applies to orlah as well. Tosafos concludes that the beracha on most perennial berries is ha’adamah because the bush does not remain from year to year, even though the bushes have the status of trees concerning kelayim and therefore may be planted in a vineyard.

IS HEIGHT A FACTOR?

Are there any other factors that define a tree other than what the Gemara mentioned? Must a plant grow tall to be considered a tree?

The Magen Avraham (203:1) rules that even if a tree grows very short, the correct beracha on its fruits and berries is borei pri ha’eitz. However, the prevalent minhag is to make a pri ha’adamah on berries that grow on plants which are less than three tefachim tall (about nine or ten inches), even though they meet all the other requirements of trees. The reason for the minhag is that a plant with such short stature is not considered significant enough to be a tree (Chayei Odom 51:9; Mishnah Berurah 203:3).

However, we should note that although the custom is to recite ha’adamah on the fruit of these small perennial bushes, the fruit grown in the first three years of the tree’s life is nonetheless prohibited because of orlah (Ritva, Sukkah 35a). Cranberries would fit into this category since they are perennial, yet grow on the ground of a bog. Thus, orlah applies to them, yet their beracha is borei pri ha’adamah.

We have now covered most of our opening questions, and plan to continue this discussion in a future article.

Man himself is compared to a tree (see Rashi, Bamidbar 13:20); and his responsibility to observe orlah, terumos, and maasros are intimately bound with the count that depends on Tu Bishvat. As Rav Hirsch explains, by observing Hashem’s command to refrain from the fruits of his own property, one learns to practice the self-restraint necessary to keep all pleasure within the limits of morality.

The author thanks Rabbi Shmuel Silinsky for his tremendous assistance in providing agricultural information for this article.

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Finding a Compatible Place for Our Family’s Outings

As reported to Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

My sister and her family are coming for an extended summer visit for the first time in many, many years which has us all very excited! We need to figure out all the logistics of having everyone together– where will everyone sleep, and how to arrange sufficient seating space and chairs. After all, they have a very large family, and each of our boys is accustomed to having his own room.

And we want to make sure that the visiting family is comfortable. In truth, there have been some sticky situations in the past. Well, let me put it this way. We are frum, but we do not keep all the chumros that they do. This has created some uncomfortable situations. We realized that, to have an optimal relationship with them, we need to be very accommodating to their needs, which is not so simple when we are not always certain what their needs are. To complicate matters further, we have discovered that they don’t trust the opinions of our rabbi. But they are really wonderful people, and in addition, mishpacha is mishpacha!

We already know that when they come we should make sure to have plenty of chalav Yisrael products available and to double check which hechsherim they accept. We know that they will not use the eruv, which our rabbi himself does. To each his own, I guess. But I want to make sure that they are comfortable; we really want to have a nice Yom Tov together, and so do they.

Since they have never been here for such an extended stay, we would like to show them the sites of town. Our city is blessed with many interesting museums, many of them extremely child friendly. Hopefully, these will help make the visit memorable for all.

But, one second. Muttie, my brother-in-law, is a kohen, and he has told me that he is very careful about checking any museum before he goes there. It would be really nice if I could figure out in advance which museums he can visit so that we can plan the itinerary.

Maybe we can take his under-bar-mitzvah boys to the Children’s Museum without any concern? I am going to call the rabbi. After all, he is also a kohen.

I reached Rabbi Katz on the first try. He told me that the prohibition of making a kohen tamei also applies to a kohen who is too young to be obligated in mitzvos. An adult Yisrael may not bring a child or baby who is a kohen into a place where he would become tamei meis, such as a cemetery or funeral home. He told me that some kohanim are extremely careful not to visit people in hospitals, even in places where most of the patients are not Jewish – not that we are planning any hospital visits during their stay.

While on the phone, I asked Rabbi Katz if there was any problem with a kohen going to a museum. He replied that he himself does go, but he knows of kohanim who refrain from doing so. I asked him what the issue was, to which he responded that he would speak to Rav Gross, the city’s av beis din, so that he provides me with fully accurate information.

Rabbi Katz called back to explain that the tumah that spreads from human remains throughout a room or building is called tumas ohel. This does not affect non-Kohanim today, since everyone is tamei anyway, and to remove this tumah requires ashes of the parah adumah – which are, of course, not available today. However, a kohen must be careful not to enter a building that contains Jewish remains.

Rav Gross had explained that there is a dispute whether a kohen may enter a museum in which there are human remains inside a glass-enclosed display area. He explained that, whereas Jewish remains certainly convey tumah whether they are touched, carried or in the same room as a person, and sometimes even if they are in the same building, it is disputed whether non-Jewish remains convey tumah when they are in the same room if they are not touched or carried.

Rabbi Katz added, “When a museum contains parts of human bodies, we do not usually know whether these are from Jewish bodies or not. Since most of the world is not Jewish, we may assume that they are from non-Jews. In addition, the remains in a museum are usually inside glass displays that can be opened when necessary. Some authorities contend that this glass enclosure is halachically equivalent to having the remains in a different room, and, in their opinion, a kohen may enter a museum.”[1]

Apparently, Rav Gross had concluded that, because of these two reasons, a kohen wanting to visit a museum where all the remains are inside display cases has a basis to be lenient.

Although I was glad to discover that my kohen friends who visit museums have a basis to do so, I realized that Muttie would probably not accept the lenient approach. I remembered a time that we were visiting them and they had taken us to a neighborhood children’s museum with many “hands-on” science exhibits perfect for children. Upon turning a corner of the museum, we discovered an area described as a “Native American Burial Ground,” complete with bones for realistic effect. Assuming that the bones were artificial, Muttie had asked the receptionist, “Are these bones authentic?”

The receptionist answered casually, “Actually, we have no reason to assume that the bones are from Native Americans; they were acquired from a medical school, which receives them as donations. Based on the bone structure, our curator feels that these are really Caucasian, but he is not certain.”

Upon hearing this information, Muttie bee-lined an abrupt exit from the museum. Indeed, they were not authentic Indian bones, but they were authentic human bones! Unquestionably, Muttie is concerned about human bones even when they are probably of a non-Jew. I was also fairly certain that Muttie would not want to rely on the fact that the remains are inside a glass display, although I had no idea why this would provide a reason to be lenient.

At this point, I remembered a cute little theater that runs actual Shakespeare plays. What could be wrong with Shakespeare? I inquired, and discovered that one of the props for Hamlet is a real skull! I had just about given up on this idea, when I mentioned it to Rabbi Katz. He commented, “Check it out. I remember once discovering that these skulls are not complete, and that there is a halacha that a damaged skull does not convey tumah throughout a building.”[2]

Off I went to check Hamlet’s skull. Much to my surprise, they were willing to show me the actual skull that they used, although they told me that they have no crossbones. Sure enough, I discovered that the top of the skull had been replaced with a metal plate. I am no Torah scholar, and had no idea whether this would be acceptable.

I called Rav Gross, and described to him the Shakespearian skull, explaining the family situation so that he would realize that I was not hunting for a lenient opinion. He told me that there was no kohen issue. “If one removes enough of an area of a skull that a live person would not be able to survive, the partial skull remaining no longer spreads tumah unless it is touched or carried.[3] The subsequent repair with a metal plate does not cause the skull to spread tumas ohel, although it would spread tumas ohel if the removed skullcap was in the same room.”[4]

Since I did not envision Muttie or his sons joining the cast of Hamlet and actually touching the skull, it seemed that we would be able to take them to the Shakespeare Theater as a special activity. I thanked Rav Gross for sharing his scholarship with me, at which point he made the following observation:

“Are you sure that this is the type of entertainment that your brother-in-law and his children would appreciate?”

Admittedly, this question had not even occurred to me. What could be inappropriate about Shakespeare? Then again, Muttie’s priorities in education are very different from mine. I was no longer sure if this was the type of outing that he would consider memorable.

So, I resigned myself to try to verify if any of our museums are kosher for kohanim. I asked the local Vaad Ha’Ir if they had ever researched the museums. They told me that although that would be a good idea, they had never done so. They added that they would be very eager to follow up on whatever I discover.

I called the information desk at the Children’s Science Museum and explained that I have company from out of town who are unable to visit the museum if it contains any human remains. I realized that they must have thought I was absolutely bonkers! I can just imagine the conversation that transpired among the receptionists on their lunch break!

Although the information desk notified me that there were no human remains to be had anywhere in the museum, I did not get any sense that they took me seriously. Apparently, I would have to take a trip there to check it out myself.

Before visiting the museum, I decided the best way to handle the situation was to call Muttie directly, and try to get direction from him what the parameters are.

I received quite an education from Muttie. To paraphrase what he told me: “A close friend of mine, who is not a kohen, often visits museums to verify whether a kohen may enter. Among the most common remains he finds are mummies, human bones, skeletons, and preserved fetuses, but occasionally he has discovered preserved human organs or entire cadavers. One museum had an empty stone casket that had been found in Eretz Yisrael with an obvious Jewish name on it. Since the supports of a grave are also sometimes tamei,[5] we had a shaylah whether this contaminated the entire museum.

“Often, displays of these items are not inside glass-enclosed areas, which increases the halachic concerns. For example, he has discovered on the shelves of museums such artifacts as Aztec musical instruments carved from the femurs of captured prisoners, as well as bowls hollowed out from skulls.” Muttie noted that these bowls pose a problem only if the kohen touches them or picks them up – boy, was he impressed when I was able to explain to him why! (Actually, I found out later that my reasoning was wrong, but explaining this will have to wait for a different time.)[6]

Muttie mentioned that on one visit, his friend noticed a display of a giant, which he assumed was a mannequin – but on closer inspection, it turned out to be a giant whose remains had been preserved in formaldehyde!

Muttie’s friend feels that a kohen who would like to visit a particular museum should first have a knowledgeable non-kohen carefully research the entire museum. From first-hand experience, he can attest that one should not rely on the information desk personnel – they are often uninformed regarding what the museum owns. In one instance, the information desk insisted that a museum had absolutely no human remains although it had on display ossuaries containing human bones!

Muttie continued: “The curators also often make mistakes. In one museum, we asked the curator whether the skull on display was real. She told us that she knows that the museum purchased it from a supplier who sells only replicas and not real skulls or skeletons. I asked her if there was any way that one could look at a skull and tell if it was real. She responded that you can usually tell by making a very careful inspection of its teeth. To demonstrate the difference between the replica and a real skull, she opened the display to show him – and discovered, much to her surprise, that the skull was real! It turned out that the museum had purchased it at a time that the supplier sold real specimens!

“Lesson to learn: Be careful and ask lots of probing questions.”

Muttie then told me an interesting bit of information. “When approaching a museum, one should ask if it contains any remains that fall under the NAGPRA act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This was a law passed by Congress requiring many institutions to return Native American cultural items and human remains to their respective peoples. Under one provision of this law, these institutions are required to catalog all Native American burial items and religious artifacts in their collections, in order to identify the living heirs, or if there are culturally affiliated Native American tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations who are interested in the remains or artifacts.

“Someone trying to find out whether a museum contains tamei remains can easily begin his conversation with the curator or collection manager by mentioning NAGPRA. Since they are familiar with the requirements of this law, the subject of human remains and their cataloging in the museum’s collections is no longer so strange to them. One can use this as an entrée to discuss what a kohen is and what our halachic concerns are. I have found that the curators are usually very helpful; however, one must ask very specifically about each type of item, such as skeletons, skulls, bones, preserved organs, and mummies, since they are not thinking about tumah but about science. A museum curator categorizes these different items according to their branch of science: either as biology, anatomy, ancient history, or anthropology.

“Furthermore, sometimes the curators themselves do not know what the museum has in storage. Here, one often gets into very interesting halachic questions that one needs to discuss with a top-of-the-line posek. For example, while looking at one museum, someone discovered that a different floor of the building contained drawers filled with all sorts of human remains.

“By the way,” Muttie noted, “there are other things to be concerned of in museums, even if one is not a kohen. Many museums contain actual idols that constitute real avodah zarah. The question arises whether one may even look at them.”

My brother-in-law pointed out that when the Torah states al tifnu el elilim, do not turn to idols,[7]the prohibition includes looking at idols.[8] The Magen Avraham[9] explains that the Torah prohibits only gazing at an idol, but does not prohibit glancing at it. Therefore, seeing it is not prohibited, but intentionally looking at it is. Thus, one must be wary of this prohibition when visiting a museum that may include idols, statues, and images.

While I was contemplating this last detail, Muttie called me back to our original topic with the following comment: “Jerry, do you know what kind of massive undertaking this is? The reason I rarely take the family to museums is that I am always uncertain what they contain, and I know how difficult it is to really determine what they have – the curators themselves often don’t know.

“I must tell you. I am so appreciative of your putting this effort into making sure we have a nice time. But for the next few weeks I am sure that you have plenty of other responsibilities. Besides, my kids are not oriented toward museum visits — they spend most of their time in yeshiva, and they much prefer spending time playing ball and running around in the park over visiting museums. I am sure your wonderful boys have nice friends, and the cousins and the friends can play some ball. For my kids that will be seventh heaven – and something much more memorable.”

I must admit that it had not even occurred to me that the cousins would enjoy just playing ball together. Indeed, we had an absolutely wonderful time together that the cousins will all remember for years to come! And I left to someone else to research whether the local museums are kohen-appropriate. Are you interested in working on this project on behalf of klal Yisrael?


[1] See Shu’t Maharsham #215

[2] Ohalos 2:3

[3] Ohalos 2:3

[4] This conclusion is based on Ohalos 2:6 and 3:1.

[5] It would seem that according to Rashi (based on his explanation of Eruvin 15a and Kesubos 4b and other places) and other authorities, this would qualify as a dofek that spreads tumas ohel; see Ohalos 2:4. However, for a variety of reasons, most later authorities would be lenient in this instance.

[6] The reason there is no tumas ohel in this instance is because there is not enough bone to present a problem; see Ohalos 2:1, 3. However, even a very small amount of human bone will cause tumah if it is touched or carried; see Ohalos 2:5.

[7] Vayikra 19:4

[8] Yerushalmi, Avodah Zarah 3:1; Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 2:2; Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #10; Sefer Hachinuch #213

[9] 307:23

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