More on Orlah

Question #1: Chopping Down the Cherry Tree

“A year ago, I transplanted a cherry tree in order to sell the wood, which is widely used by artists for delicate artistic carving. I see that many cherries have grown on the tree. Are they prohibited as orlah?”

Question #2: Sabra Borders

“Someone planted a sabra tree (also known as a “prickly pear,” “cactus pear” or “Indian fig”) as a natural border fence for his property, and placed a sign telling people not to help themselves to the fruit. Is there an orlah prohibition on the fruit?”

Question #3: Woody Fuel

“I live in a rural area without electricity. We run a nature resort and chop wood for heating and cooking. If I plant trees for wood, do I need to keep track of which year I plant the tree, due to orlah concerns?”

Of the many agricultural mitzvos, one of the most fascinating ones we have is orlah. Orlah roughly means that during the first three years of a tree’s growth, any fruit that grows on it cannot be eaten or benefited from. The mitzvah is unique in many ways and its laws contain some very interesting rules and applications.

One of the insights that this mitzvah provides is that it shows that the Torah requires us not to limit ourselves to the studies of religion and philosophy, or even of just Tanach and Gemara.  It is impossible to put the laws of orlah into application without an extensive scientific knowledge. An incredible number of botanical details must be understood in the practical application of this mitzvah, and observing orlah properly requires investigating these details.

As a child, I was told that orlah is a very rare mitzvah, since there are no trees that produce fruit in their first three years. Notwithstanding that the Ramban (ad locum) implies this, one cannot rely on this halachically for two reasons:

Firstly, many trees and, in particular, bushes produce fruit and berries in their first three years.

Secondly, it is possible to have orlah on trees that are older than three years.

Let us begin with this topic by examining the pesukim in which this mitzvah is presented:

Vechi savo’u el ha’aretz, u’netatem kol eitz ma’achal va’araltem orlaso es piryo, shalosh shanim yihyeh lachem arei’lim, loyei’acheil.” “And when you come to the land and you plant any fruit tree, you shall treat yourselves as restricted against the fruits; for three years they shall be restricted to you, you shall not eat them” (Vayikra 19:23).

Let us now dissect this pasuk:

“Vechi savo’u el ha’aretz,” “And when you come to the land.” What land is the pasuk talking about? We can safely assume for now that it is Eretz Yisrael.

Kol eitz ma’achal.” Since the pasuk later references “piryo,” “its fruit,” we know that the tree bears fruit. What, then, is the pasuk telling us by referring to the tree as “eitz ma’achal”?

It is telling us that the mitzvah applies only when a tree is planted for the purpose of consuming its fruit.

Allow me to explain. Here are three examples of trees that are not planted for fruit:

A. A tree planted for lumber.

B. A tree planted as a boundary marker.

C. A tree planted to produce firewood.

Regarding trees on the above list, the Mishnah (Orlah 1:1) teaches that fruits that grow during the first three years of the life of the tree are permitted. However, there is a caveat to this heter: It must be clear that the tree was not planted for its fruit.

Here is an example:

Trimming the side branches of a tree demonstrates that the tree was not planted for its fruit. When you plant a tree for fruit, the side branches are beneficial. After all, the more branches there are, the more fruit usually grow. In addition, the lower branches are easier to reach, facilitating harvesting.

Trimming the side branches, however, assures that the tree grows straight and tall, yielding taller lumber. Therefore, trimming the side branches proves that your purpose is not for the fruit.

Similarly, if trees are planted close together, that proves that they are not intended for their fruit, since spacing is important for optimal fruit growth.

Chopping down the cherry tree

“A year ago, I transplanted a cherry tree in order to sell the wood, which is widely used by artists for delicate artistic carving. I see that many cherries have grown on the tree. Are they prohibited as orlah?”

The answer is that if you cultivated the tree in a way that it is obvious that you were interested in the wood and not the fruit, even what grew in the first three years is permitted. Also see below that there might be another reason why the cherries are permitted.

Sabra borders

At this point, we can also discuss the second of our opening questions: “Someone planted a sabra tree (also known as a “prickly pear,” “cactus pear” or “Indian fig”) as a natural border fence for his property, and placed a sign telling people not to help themselves to the fruit. Is there an orlah prohibition on the fruit?”

Had the owner planted the tree only as a border, it would not be eitz ma’achal, and the fruit that grew during the first three years would be permitted. However, this is dependent on the intentions of the planter. In this instance, since the owner put up a sign telling people not to take the fruit, he is clearly interested in the fruit crop. Therefore, the fruit is prohibited.

Another exception in which the fruit is prohibited:

Even if a tree is exempt from orlah restrictions due to any of the above situations, if the owner changes his mind and begins to use the tree as a fruit tree, whatever fruit grow during the remainder of the initial three-year period subsequent to this change are prohibited as orlah.

Woody

We can also answer the third of our opening questions: “I live in a rural area without electricity. We run a nature resort and chop wood for heating and cooking. If I plant trees for wood, do I need to keep track of which year I plant the tree, due to orlah concerns?”

There are no orlah concerns if the way the tree is grown or cared for demonstrates that it is being grown only for firewood.

Continuing our analysis of the pasuk: “va’araltem orlaso es piryo.” “You shall treat yourselves as restricted against the fruits.”

Fruits only
Only the fruits of the orlah tree are forbidden. The branches and non-fruit parts of the tree are permitted. However, the entire fruit, including shells, skins, and seeds, is forbidden. Furthermore, even inedible fruit that grow from an edible fruit tree is forbidden. For example, grapes which have not or will not develop are prohibited as orlah.

Benefit
In addition to being forbidden to eat orlah fruits, we are also forbidden to derive benefit, hana’ah, from them.

How does this manifest itself in practice?

It is prohibited to make a dye from the skins or shells of orlah fruits. We may not use the seeds of an orlah fruit for coloring, nor may we use them for fertilizer or animal food. Furthermore, even more indirect methods of benefit are prohibited. Allow me to elaborate:

Let us say that I own a tree whose fruit is orlah. I am not allowed to eat its fruits, but there is no such restriction on my non-Jewish neighbor. Orlah is not one of the mitzvos that a ben noach, a non-Jewish Noahide, is required to observe. However, since the fruits are assur behana’ah, prohibited for benefit, I am not allowed to give the fruits to him, nor am I allowed to tell him to help himself. This is because when I give him a gift, I will likely make him feel indebted to me. He might be motivated to give me something in return, and that would be a benefit derived from the orlah fruit.

What, therefore, should I do with these fruits? Should I just leave them on the tree?

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach paskened that to leave orlah fruits on the tree would create a stumbling block. Passersby might not realize that the fruits are forbidden, and they might eat them. His psak was to take the fruit off the tree and dispose of them in the halachically prescribed method, i.e., by burning them.

Chutz La’aretz
As we said earlier, the pasuk says “Vechi savo’u el ha’aretz,” “When you come into the land,” which we take to mean Eretz Yisrael. Why then is orlah not an agricultural mitzvah that applies only in Eretz Yisrael?


The Gemara (Kiddushin 39a) teaches that orlah in chutz la’aretz has a unique status. It is a halacha leMoshe miSinai, a halacha that we have an oral tradition dating back to Moshe Rabbeinu, and one for which we do not have a textual source in the Torah. This halacha, of orlah in chutz le’aretz, comes with an unusual leniency regarding questionable orlah, as follows:

In Eretz Yisrael, before buying a fruit, one is obligated to research and determine whether or not the fruit is orlah. When in doubt, the fruit must be treated as orlah and prohibited.In chutz la’aretz, on the other hand, one is not obligated to conduct any research. The fruit will only be forbidden if it is definitely orlah.

What is a tree?
How do we define a tree for the purposes of orlah?
While the poskim debate if the qualifications for orlah are the same as those for hilchos berachos, the qualifications for hilchos berachos give us a good starting point. The Gemara (Berachos 40a) defines a tree for the purpose of making borei peri ha’eitz as one that does not lose its trunk from year to year. According to this, if a tree trunk degenerates every year, or if it requires replanting every year, it is not halachically a tree.

However, the achronim give us further qualifications for consideration of a tree’s halachic status. For a discussion of these qualifications, I refer the reader to the articles on the website RabbiKaganoff.com, under the search words “tree” or “orlah.”

Three years

How do we calculate the three years for orlah?

Orlah is calculated in a very interesting way. If a tree is planted before the 15th of Av, its fruits that appear after the third Tu Bishvat are permitted. If the tree is planted after the 15th of Av, then only the fruits that appear after the fourth Tu Bishvat will be permitted. Thus, a tree planted before the 15th of Av, will produce permitted fruits a year earlier than a tree planted on or after the 15th of Av.

With most fruit, we calculate this based on the fruit’s first appearance. With some species however, such as olives, grapes, and carobs, this is calculated based on a specific stage of the fruit’s growth. Details of these halachos are beyond the scope of this article.

Up until now, we have discussed orlah as applying only during the first three years of a tree’s life. However, as mentioned previously in this article, it is possible to have a tree that is even older than three years and still subject to orlah.

How can this be?

The Mishnah in Orlah (1:3) teaches us that if a tree is uprooted and replanted, its orlah count sometimes starts afresh.

When the uprooted tree is uprooted along with enough soil for it to survive, the orlah count continues as it was; i.e., if the tree was past its three years, its fruit is permitted.

If, on the other hand, the tree is uprooted without enough soil for it to survive, it is viewed as if it was planted anew, and the orlah count starts from scratch.

What, then, constitutes enough soil for the tree to survive?

This is a machlokes rishonim, with some opinions defining that it means that the tree can survive for fourteen days, and other opinions requiring it to survive all the way to three years. In chutz le’aretz, since we are lenient with all orlah questions, we will rely on the opinions that require only fourteen days; in Eretz Yisrael, many poskim say that we must follow the stricter opinions.

Conclusion

In addition to the three years in which orlah is forbidden, the Torah rules that the fruit of the fourth year of a tree is holy, with the same laws as maaser sheini, that they. Both the fourth-year product, called reva’i, and maaser sheini should be eaten within the walls of Yerushalayim, and may be eaten only when we are tehorim; otherwise, the sanctity of the fruits must be redeemed, a topic I discussed in a different article.As the Torah states: “And when you come into the land and you plant any fruit tree, you shall treat yourselves as restricted against the fruits; for three years they shall be restricted to you, you shall not eat them. And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy for praises to Hashem. Only in the fifth year may you eat its fruit – therefore, it will increase its produce for you, for I am Hashem your G-d (Vayikra 19:23-25). We see that Hashem, Himself, promises that He will reward those who observe the laws of the first four years with abundant increase in the tree’s produce in future years. May we soon see the day when we can bring our reva’i and eat it b’taharah within the rebuilt walls of Yerushalayim!

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Believing Is Seeing

Question #1: Kiddush Levanah on an Airplane

“It was cloudy on motzaei Shabbos, so I was unable to be mekadeish levanah after davening in shul. Later that night, I left for the airport, and I am now sitting in my window seat, which includes a beautiful view of the new moon. May I be mekadeish levanah now, although I am indoors, and I am also obviously looking at the moon through a window?”

Question #2: Havdalah on a Lightbulb

“I have been told that Rav Chayim Ozer, the posek hador before the Second World War, deliberately recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light. How could he have done this when a lightbulb must be encased in glass for it to burn?”

Question #3: This Week’s Parsha

“What do the above questions have to do with this week’s parsha?”

Foreword

Of the many mesechtos of Mishnayos, the tractate named Nega’im, so germane to a proper understanding of both of this week’s parshios, may have the distinction of being the least familiar mesechta. Since few of us regard the laws concerning tzaraas on people, clothes and houses to be applicable, there is a tendency to assume that these are difficult topics and, therefore, they are often not studied. Nevertheless, a tremendous amount of Torah knowledge lies in this mesechta, in addition to it being essential to understand this week’s Torah readings correctly.

Mesechta Nega’im is arguably the most organized of the mesechtos of Shas.

Notwithstanding its length (it is the fourth longest mesechta), someone familiar with it can locate any Mishnah or subtopic effortlessly, since each of its 14 chapters is focused on a very specific aspect of the laws of nega’im and tzaraas.

The first chapter describes the various colors that a nega may have; the second, the details concerning how a nega is examined; the third is an overview and comparison of the various types of negaim. The fourth chapter discusses the symptoms of white hair and expansion that are mentioned prominently in the Torah; the fifth chapter discusses cases of questionable tzaraas; the sixth explains the laws of healthy-looking skin inside a nega, known as michyah. The seventh chapter discusses cases of nega’im that are not tamei; the eighth analyses the laws of a nega that covers the entire body; the ninth chapter explains the laws of nega’im on injured skin; and the tenth chapter teaches the laws of negaim on the scalp and beard.

The last four chapters are also very clearly organized, dealing, in order, with nega’im on clothing (Chapter 11), on houses (Chapters 12 and 13) and the process of making someone tahor after he became a metzora (Chapter 14).

Viewing

As I mentioned above, the second chapter of Mishnayos Nega’im is devoted to the details concerning how a nega is examined. Among the many issues discussed here are the times of the day that the lighting is adequate for a kohen to view and rule on nega’im, the quality of vision required of a kohen to do this, and how a kohen examines a nega inside a house that does not have quality lighting.

This week’s parsha

Notwithstanding the fact that I have just sung the praises of the importance of proper organization and how much was invested in mesechta Nega’im, I am going to discuss the last of our opening questions first. “What do the above questions have to do with this week’s parsha?” To answer this question we need to explore a relatively minor detail germane to the laws of nega’im.

Seeing is believing

Among the issues discussed by the later halachic authorities is: What is the halacha if the kohen’s vision is impaired and he cannot see the nega properly without eyeglasses? Is this considered that the kohen saw the nega, a necessary requirement to rule the person, cloth or house tamei? Or is this considered that he did not see the nega correctly, and the person, cloth or house remains tahor?

One of the later commentaries on the Mishnah, the Tiferes Yisroel, discusses this issue, and draws analogy to several areas of halacha where we find discussion whether use of an implement to view something is considered as seeing it (Boaz, Nega’im 2:4).

Waxen wane

The first comparison the Tiferes Yisroel draws is to the laws of the reading of the Torah. An early authority discusses the following question: Wax, presumably from a candle in the shul, fell on a Sefer Torah. In the course of reading the Torah on Shabbos, this wax was discovered, and the laws of Shabbos prohibit scraping off the wax. Assuming that the wax is opaque enough that one can read the words underneath, is this considered that the baal keriyah read the Sefer Torah and the mitzvah has been fulfilled, or do we consider those words to be covered and that it is impossible to observe the mitzvah with this Sefer Torah until the wax is removed? According to the first approach, they can continue with the Torah reading, whereas according to the second approach, they must put the Sefer Torah back and take out a different one to continue reading the Torah portion for this Shabbos.

The Tiferes Yisroel quotes an earlier source, the Leket Hakemach, as ruling that it is permitted to continue using this Torah by reading through the wax. The Leket Hakemach is one of several halachic works by Rav Moshe ibn Chagiz, one of the gedolei hador in Eretz Yisroel in the early eighteenth century. The sefer Leket Hakemach is unusual in that it is an anthology in which Rav ibn Chagiz often quotes the conclusion of many halachic sources without discussing the details of the issues involved. This style became popular over two hundred years later, as evidenced by such works as the Pischei Teshuvah, the Sdei Chemed and the Darchei Teshuvah. In this instance, the Leket Hakemach concludes that it is permitted to read from this Sefer Torah, provided that the baal keriyah can see the word clearly through the wax. This means that the intervening wax is not considered a chatzitzah (block or intervention) from reading the Torah. The Tiferes Yisroel concludes that there is certainly no problem for the baal keriyah or the person receiving an aliyah reading the Sefer Torah to use eyeglasses. Similarly, the Tiferes Yisroel suggests at the outset of his discussion that a kohen could rule on a nega on the basis of what he sees with his eyeglasses.

Chalitzah

A similar question is asked by an early acharon. Can one perform a chalitzah when one of the dayanim can see the procedure only with the aid of his eyeglasses? Is this considered that he witnessed the chalitzah, which is necessary for the validity of the procedure?

The Shevus Yaakov rules that it is perfectly acceptable to perform the chalitzah this way (Shu”t Shevus Yaakov 1:126).

Kiddush levanah and borei me’orei ha’eish

The Tiferes Yisroel then compares his question to an area that has more halachic discussion – whether one can recite the brochos of kiddush levanah and borei me’orei ha’eish, should one see the moon or the flame through glass.

Let’s trace this halachic discussion from its sources. The tanna’im (Mishnah Megillah 24a) dispute whether a blind man is obligated to recite the brocha that we recite every morning immediately after Borchu, which closes with the words yotzeir hame’oros, praising Hashem for providing the world with light. Rabbi Yehudah contends that since the blind cannot see sunlight, it is inappropriate for them to praise Hashem for something from which they cannot benefit. The Tanna Kamma disagrees, noting that they do benefit from light, since it enables other people to look out for them. The Gemara proceeds to tell us an anecdote about a blind man who was seen walking in the pitch-black night holding a torch. Rabbi Yosi asked him why he was holding a light, to which the man answered, “As long as the torch is in my hand, people see me and save me from pits and thorns.” Thus, although he may not be able to see the light, he certainly benefits from it. The halachic authorities conclude in accordance with the Tanna Kamma that a blind person does recite yotzeir hame’oros (Shulchan Aruch 69:2).

Borei me’orei ha’eish

The Mishnah (Brochos 51b) states that the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish cannot be recited unless the person can benefit from the light. How much benefit is enough to recite the brocha? The Gemara (53b) states: Enough that he can distinguish by the light between two coins of different size and value.

Upon this basis, the authorities conclude that there is a difference between the brocha of yotzeir hame’oros, which a blind person recites, and the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish (Ra’avyah, Megillah, and all subsequent authorities). As we just saw, the Gemara provided a quantitative visual criterion for the recital of this brocha, that is, the ability to use the light to discern between two coins. Reciting borei me’orei ha’eish requires not only that one can benefit from the light, but that one must actually be able to see something specific with it. This precludes the blind man from reciting this brocha: although he gains benefit from the light, he cannot fulfill the second requirement, which defines something physical that he can see.

Kiddush levanah

To review, the halachic conclusion was that the brocha of yotzeir hame’oros requires benefiting from the light, but not necessarily seeing the light whereas the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish requires actually seeing the light and discerning something with its aid.

At this point, we need to discuss the brocha of kiddush levanah, about which the Gemara states that he does not recite a brocha unless he can differentiate by its light between two coins. Should it be compared to yotzeir hame’oros, which would imply that a blind man can recite the brocha, or should it be compared to borei me’orei ha’eish, in which case he cannot?

We find that sixteenth-century authorities dispute this question, the Maharshal ruling that a blind person may and should recite kiddush levanah, whereas his younger contemporary, Rav Yaakov Castro (known as the Maharikash), ruled that he should not. (The Maharikash was born in Egypt around 1525. As a youth he traveled to Yerushalayim, where he studied under the Maharlnach, Rabbi Levi ibn Habib, the posek hador and the rav of Jerusalem. In 1570, the Maharikash, who at that time was a dayan in Egypt, visited Tzefat, where he was a house guest of Rav Yosef Karo, and later recorded in his own writings many of the halachic practices he noticed there. Among the Maharikash’s many scholarly works, he authored footnotes to the Shulchan Aruch, sometimes referred to as the “second set” — the first set being those written by the Rema. The Maharikash named his notes on the Shulchan Aruch, Eirech Lechem, based on the posuk, Shemos 40:23, which means the bread laid out on the table of the Shulchan Aruch. The Rema’s notes were called the mapah, the tablecloth on the table. Thus, the three works describe a table perfectly set with bread on it, ready for a meal to be served.)

The Maharshal contends that there is a difference between the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish and the brocha of kiddush levanah, writing that “the mitzvah of borei me’orei ha’eish is not dependent only on benefiting from the light, but also on being able to see… however this distinction is relative only to borei me’orei ha’eish, but regarding kiddush levanah, it seems to me that someone (who cannot see) can certainly recite the brocha, since the Gemara implies that it is sufficient if mankind in general can benefit from the moonlight” (Shu”t Maharshal #77).

The consensus of the later authorities is to follow the conclusion of the Maharshal that a blind man recites kiddush levanah, unlike the position of the Maharikash (Magen Avraham; Elya Rabbah; Pri Chadash, Biur Halacha , etc., all in Orach Chayim 426).

Kohen and nega

Notwithstanding the many proofs that seeing somethingthrough glass is valid, Tiferes Yisroel notes that some halachic sources indicate that a difference exists between the quality of viewing required for a brocha, versus that necessary for testimony. For example, he contends that someone cannot give testimony in court on the basis of something that he saw through a window. (His proof to this position is arguable, but we will not belabor the details.) Tiferes Yisroel contends that germane to testimony, we must be absolutely certain, and we must therefore be concerned that the tinting of color through glass might affect what we see. Similarly, he concludes that a kohen would not be allowed to rule on a nega on the basis of what he sees with his eyeglasses, or through any other glass.

Returning to glass

Let us return to our previous discussion about the mitzvos of kiddush levanah and borei me’orei ha’eish. May one recite borei me’orei ha’eish when the light is covered with glass? We find a dispute among earlier authorities whether one may recite borei me’orei ha’eish when one can see and use the light, but there is a pane of glass separating you from it. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 428) quotes a dispute between the Orchos Chayim and the Rashba (Brochos 53b s.v. Hayesa), the Orchos Chayim forbids reciting a brocha on such a light until it is removed from inside the glass, whereas the Rashba permits it. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 298:15) rules that one may not recite a brocha on such a light, whereas the Magen Avraham concludes that one may.

Kiddush levanah on an airplane

At this point, we can discuss the opening question of our article. “It was cloudy on motzaei Shabbos, so I was unable to be mekadeish levanah after davening in shul. Later that night, I left for the airport, and I am now sitting in my window seat, which includes a beautiful view of the new moon. May I be mekadeish levanah now, although I am indoors, and I am also obviously looking at the moon through a window?”

There are two questions here:

(1) Is it permitted to recite kiddush levanah indoors?

(2) Is it permitted to recite kiddush levanah when seeing the moon through a pane of glass?

Technically, these are two unrelated questions: one can physically see the moon when indoors by looking at it through an open skylight or window, and one can be outdoors and yet see the moon through glass.

Kiddush levanah indoors

Early authorities rule that kiddush levanah should be recited outdoors, since this demonstrates more respect (Shiltei Hagiborim). However, the consensus is that this requirement is only when it is practical to recite kiddush levanah outdoors. A person who is ill is permitted to recite kiddush levanah indoors, and the same law holds true for someone in other extenuating circumstances (Bach; Pri Chodosh).

What a pane!

Shu”t Radbaz (#341) asks an interesting question. What is the halacha if the moon is covered by a very thin cloud in a way that you can see the moon clearly, and it sheds enough light that you can use its light to tell the difference between two coins? The Radbaz rules that kiddush levanah may be recited under this circumstance. Similarly, kiddush levanah may be recited when the moon is clearly visible through glass and there is no practical way to see the moon directly, such as when you are on an airplane.

Havdalah on a lightbulb

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “I have been told that Rav Chayim Ozer, the posek hador before the War, deliberately recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light. How could he have done this when a lightbulb must be encased in glass for it to burn?”

On many occasions, I was told by my Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Ruderman, zt”l, that Rav Chayim Ozer recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light. Rav Chayim Ozer’s reason for doing so was for people to realize that turning on an electric light on Shabbos involves a Torah prohibition of desecrating Shabbos.

Because of Rav Chayim Ozer’s efforts, today this is realized. However, in his day there were those who contended that turning on an electric switch was considered an indirect way (grama) of doing melacha and, therefore, did not involve a violation of Torah law. In order to demonstrate convincingly how strongly he felt about the issue, Rav Chayim Ozer deliberately recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light so that people would realize that turning on this light is prohibited min haTorah.

We see that the fact that the “flame” of an electric light must be encased in glass did not disturb Rav Chayim Ozer, since it can be seen clearly through the glass.

In summation

The Magen Avraham and most later authorities rule that one can fulfill the mitzvos of kiddush levanah 426:1) and borei me’orei ha’eish (298:20) when seeing the moon or the light through glass. It might be that this is insufficient for a kohen checking a nega, where there is a good possibility that he must see the nega without anything intervening.

Conclusion

Through this discussion, we see how understanding Torah properly involves deep familiarity with halachic sources that are ostensibly dealing with other topics. The rishonim referred to this as divrei Torah aniyim bimkomam va’ashirim bimkom acheir, the words of Torah are few in the discussion at hand, but vast and more explanatory in other places (see, for example, Tosafos, Kerisus 14a). Thus a posek must have a broad base of halachic knowledge.

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Lessons of Parshas Shemini

Question #1: Tanner Training

“I work as a leather tanner. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

Question #2: Amorphous Amphibians

“What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

Question #3: Lessons of Parshas Shemini

What does either of the previous two questions have to do with this week’s parshah?

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 are about 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. As the Gemara teaches, in the days of Chizkiyahu Hamelech, they searched the entire Land of Israel, from the northern to the southern tip, and could not find a single man, woman or child who was not completely conversant in every detail of the laws of tumah and taharah (Sanhedrin 94b). The situation should be similar today or even better, since we have a responsibility to comprehend the weekly parshah, and some of these laws are discussed in parshas Shemini.

Some tumah basics

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

The following passage of this week’s parshah 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 describes many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination), each with its own laws. Every word used in this passage has a very specific meaning. Let us explore some of the laws of the different categories mentioned.

(1) Neveilah

When discussing someone who touched a non-shechted animal carcass (neveilah), the Torah specifies that a person becomes tamei whether he touched it or carried it, but notes a halachic difference between a neveilah that was touched and one that was carried. Regarding carrying the carcass, which creates a status called tumas masa, the Torah says that he must wash his clothes, but omits this detail regarding one who touches the carcass, which is called tumas maga. We see here a difference in halachah between the person who carries a neveilah and one who touches it without moving it. One who carries a neveilah contaminates any utensils, food or beverage susceptible to tumah that he touches while he carries it. The clothes that he wears are used by the Torah as an example of any item that he touches while carrying or moving the neveilah. This tumah is called tumah be’chiburin, meaning tumah by connection. Any keilim, utensils or appliances that now become tamei will require immersion in a mikveh or spring, and then will become tahor again at the subsequent nightfall. (There is one type of utensil that is not affected by tumah be’chiburin – earthenware vessels that were touched by a person while he carried a neveilah remain tahor. Also, tumah be’chiburin of neveilah does not contaminate people – therefore, someone touching the person who is carrying the neveilah remains tahor.) However, someone who touches a neveilah without causing it to move does not contaminate something else he touches at the same time. While he himself becomes tamei and remains tamei until he immerses in a mikveh or spring and waits until nightfall, what he touches at the time remains tahor.

Tanner training

At this point, let us examine our first opening question:

“I work as a leather tanner. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

The questioner realizes that someone who tans leather will make himself tamei if he handles the carcasses of animals. However, once the flesh is removed, the hide itself is not considered neveilah and does not generate tumah (see Mishnah Chullin 117b). Even should our questioner handle neveilos, he can make himself tahor through immersion in a mikveh. It is, indeed, true that he may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim while he is tamei, but this does not preclude his earning his livelihood in this way.

(2) Sheretz

The Torah lists eight creeping creatures that generate tumah if one touches them after they are dead. As the Ibn Ezra already notes, we are uncertain as to the exact identity of these eight creatures. When Eliyahu arrives, he will teach us their proper identifications, so that we can properly observe the laws. According to the translation that I provided above, which is based on Rashi and other traditional commentaries, the eight include an interesting mixture of small mammals (mostly rodents), reptiles, amphibians and mollusks. All usually lie close to the ground, and most are small. However, if the ko’ach is identified correctly as a monitor, it is the largest of the lizards and can grow as long as ten feet.

If our translation is correct, other small creatures – such as snakes, frogs, insects and other rodents – are not included under the heading of tamei sheratzim. Although it may not seem aesthetically pleasing to touch live creatures or dead insects, rodents and other small animals, you do not become tamei from touching them. I recommend washing your hands for hygienic reasons, but maintaining hygiene and becoming tamei are unrelated concepts.

By the way, the word tzav, used in Modern Hebrew for turtle, is one of the sheratzim, but means toad, according to Rashi. I have no idea who decided to use this word for turtle, but it is not consistent with halachic authorities. There is no reason to assume that a dead turtle makes one tamei.

Amorphous amphibians

At this point, let us refer back to one of our opening questions: “What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

A zoologist will note several differences, but this is a halachic article. According to Rashi, a toad is one of the eight sheratzim that are tamei, and a frog is not (Taharos 5:1, 4).

Laws of sheratzim

Regarding the tumah of sheratzim, the Torah states that one who touches them becomes tamei, but it mentions nothing about the person’s clothing requiring immersion, nor does it state that someone becomes tamei when he carries them. This is because a sheretz makes someone tamei only if he touches it, and not if he moves it without touching. Furthermore, his clothing and anything else he touches while touching the sheretz, donot become tamei, unless they are in direct physical contact with the sheretz.

Toad vs. frog

Why did the Torah declare only these eight creatures to be tamei, but no others?

This is a question that we can ask, but probably not answer, other than to accept the gezeiras hakasuv, the declaration of the Torah, and observe it as Hashem’s will. Although we endeavor to explain the reasons for our commandments, we realize that we can never assume that we understand the reason for a mitzvah. We explore possible reasons for a mitzvah in order to enhance our experience when we observe it. We do this when we can. However, I have not found any commentary that endeavors to explain what it is about these eight specific creeping creatures, but no others, that generates tumah.

I will be continuing this topic in my next article.

Conclusion

This article has served as an introduction to some of the basic rules of tumah and taharah relating to neveilah and sheratzim. We hope and pray to be able to observe all of these laws soon.

* This translation follows Malbim.

** With the exception of the ko’ach, our translation follows Rashi’s commentary.

*** Most commentators identify this either with the chameleon or with the monitor, both of which are varieties of lizard.

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Erev Pesach on Shabbos Guide

This year, the first day of Pesach falls on Sunday, which means that Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos. This changes many Pesach observances. Below is a simplified guide to the practices of Erev Pesach that falls on Shabbos.

Photo by alex ringer from FreeImages

Thursday

Since Erev Pesach is Shabbos, the fast of Taanis Bechoros is pushed earlier, to Thursday. A bechor or the father of a minor bechor is obligated to fast on Thursday, but he can discharge his obligation by making or attending a siyum. If attending a siyum is not a viable option because of COVID safety concerns, please consult with your LOR (=local Orthodox rabbi) as to whether you can attend a siyum online.

Thursday night

Bedikas Chometz

Regular bedikas chometz is performed with a bracha. After completing the bedikah, one recites the first bitul.

Friday

Friday morning davening is regular, without tachanun, because it is the month of Nisan. Although, on Erev Pesach, Ashkenazim do not say the chapters of mizmor lesodah and la’me’natzei’ach in shacharis, they do say these parts in the Friday davening, since it is not Erev Pesach. Since Sefardim do not recite la’me’natzei’ach on any day when tachanun is not recited, they do not recite it the entire month of Nisan.

Selling the Chometz

Reminder: make sure to have already attended to the sale of your chometz.

Burning the Chometz

We burn chometz on Friday morning, even though one may own chometz until Shabbos morning. Place the chometz that is to be eaten on Shabbos in a secure place and make a mental note where that chometz is located. We do not recite the second bitul after burning the chometz on Friday morning, but, instead, we recite it on Shabbos morning, when we finish eating the chometz.

Doing Melacha on Erev Shabbos

Although it is prohibited to perform certain melacha-work during the afternoon of Erev Pesach, and haircuts and shaving must be performed in the morning, there is no limitation on doing melacha-work on this Friday any different from any other Erev Shabbos, because it is not Erev Pesach.

Eruvei Chatzeiros

The minhag is to renew an eruv chatzeiros with neighbors on Erev Pesach. This year, it should be renewed on Erev Shabbos.

Matzoh baking

Those who are accustomed to bake matzohs on the afternoon of erev Pesach usually bake them in the afternoon of this Erev Shabbos, even though it is still permitted to eat chometz.

Seder preparations

Ideally, all of the seder preparations should be performed on Friday, including roasting the zero’a (shankbone) and the egg, preparing the saltwater, making the charoses, checking and washing the marror, grinding the horseradish. Make sure to open the boxes of matzos and bottles of wine, as one would before every Shabbos. Although this is unusual in today’s world, if you need to separate challah from your matzoh, remember to do so before Shabbos. If you forgot to do so before Shabbos, what to do if you first discover the problem the first night of Pesach will depend on whether the matzoh was prepared in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz. Briefly explained, although it is prohibited to separate challah on Shabbos or on Yom Tov (unless the dough was mixed on Yom Tov), someone who prepared dough in chutz la’aretz and forgot to separate challah may put aside some of the product (in this case, some of the matzoh), eat the rest of the matzoh on seder night, and separate challah from the leftovers after Yom Tov (in this case, on Chol Hamo’eid). However, someone living in Eretz Yisroel cannot use this solution, and will have to find other matzoh to use for the seder.

Shabbos Food Preparations

If you are preparing chometz-dik food for your Shabbos meals, do not make sticky chometzdik food that will adhere to your pots or plates. (Presumably, most people will prepare Pesachdik food for all meals.)

Shabbos Candles

Be careful not to place the Shabbos candelabra on the tablecloth on which chometz will be served, since it will not be possible to remove the candles in order to remove the tablecloth.

Planning three meals

Friday night meal

One should kindle the Shabbos lights near where one intends to eat the Friday night meal.

One is required to recite hamotzi at the first two Shabbos meals, using two “breads” (lechem mishneh).

It is permissible to eat chometz hamotzi in one part of the house and the Pesachdik meal in another, since his intent when washing and making hamotzi was to eat his meal in this way. He should return to where he made hamotzi for bensching. Each person should eat at least one kebeitzah of bread (egg size) to fulfill the mitzvah of seudas Shabbos and justify making netilas yadayim with a bracha. (Since one may not weigh on Shabbos, one who intends to weigh his chometz, in order to determine that he is eating the correct amount, should do so before Shabbos.)

Egg or grape matzoh, or matzoh cookies (all of these qualify as matzoh ashirah) may be used for lechem mishneh at these meals. According to many authorities, Ashkenazim should eat as much matzoh ashirah as one would eat bread with this type of a meal (i.e., certainly more than the egg size mentioned above). Sefardim should eat four egg sizes of the matzoh ashirah. Please note that Rav Moshe Feinstein was more lenient than the above approaches, ruling that as long as the kevi’us seudah is on the matzoh ashirah, which presumably requires eating at least a kebeitzah, that the brocha is hamotzi.

Note that someone who has the custom to refrain from eating matzoh after Purim or Rosh Chodesh may still eat matzoh ashirah.

If using chometz plates to serve a hot meal that was cooked in a Pesachdik pot, one should pour the hot food into a Pesachdik plate or platter before pouring it into the chometz-dik plates. (Presumably, most people will be serving the meals on disposable dishes.)

Shabbos Morning

Daven early. One is required to eat one meal in the morning. There is a recommendation (hiddur) to eat two meals on the morning of Erev Pesach, separated by a brief interruption.

For those who wish to eat two meals in the morning, I suggest:

Immediately after davening, make kiddush, hamotzi, eat a piece of fish, and bensch.

Take a break, and begin the next meal with enough time to finish eating before the latest time to eat chometz. Some poskim prefer that a fleishig course be eaten with the first morning meal, before breaking.

Bitul chometz

After completing the eating of the chometz, dispose of the remaining chometz into the toilet (taking care to crumble it into small pieces and only flush a small amount at one time) or into a communal garbage bin (if it is within the eruv), but do not place it inside your own garbage can. Then recite the second bitul chometz. One may continue eating the meal without new brachos, notwithstanding that he may no longer eat chometz.

Shabbos afternoon

Since most people follow the opinion of davening mincha before seudah shelishis, one should daven mincha early.

Seudah shelishis

In the early afternoon, one may serve a heavy Pesach-dik meal (meat, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, etc.) without any hamotzi at all. If you eat “gebroktz,” it is recommended to eat kneidlich at this meal. According to the Mishnah Berurah, it is permitted and recommended to eat kneidlich, even if you have a minhag not to eat matzoh from Purim or from Rosh Chodesh and there is no halachic problem with eating them on Erev Pesach.

Many poskim recommend that Sefardim serve matzoh ashirah at seudah shelishis. These matzos require netilas yadayim. The bracha before eating these matzos is hamotzi, and they require bensching, afterward.

If one eats cooked matzoh, kneidlich or matzoh ashirah for seudah shelishis, one should complete eating seudah shelishis before the “tenth hour,” which is a half hour before “mincha ketana,” or three quarters of the day. Some authorities contend that even those who eat only fruit and vegetables this Shabbos for seudah shelishis should eat before the tenth hour. One may eat a small quantity of fruit or vegetables after this point.

It is advisable to take a nap Shabbos afternoon, but one should not mention that he is taking a nap in order to be awake for the seder. (Some poskim consider this statement to be preparing on Shabbos for after Shabbos.)

Most poskim contend that one should not move one’s seder matzos before Shabbos is over. Since many people bring their own matzoh to the seder, if they are eating at someone else’s house, they should not carry these matzos until Shabbos is over. Also, remember not to begin preparations for the seder until Shabbos is over and after saying “Baruch Hamavdil bein kodesh lekodesh.”

Chag Kosher vesomay’ach!!

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Selling Chometz before Pesach

Photo by Deb Collins from FreeImages

Question #1:

“A room is rented to a non-Jew, because it contains the chometz that was sold to him as part of the mechiras chometz. May I enter the room in order to remove something that was not included in the sale?”

Question #2:

“On an occasional emergency basis, my daughter requires use of a medicine that is not listed as being chometz-free. Should we include this medicine with what we sell to the non-Jew, and if we do, what should we do if she needs it during Pesach?”

Answer:

As we all know, a Jew may not own chometz on Pesach; this is included in the Torah’s double prohibition, bal yira’eh and bal yimatzei. Furthermore, the Torah commanded us with a mitzvas aseh, a positive mitzvah, to destroy any chometz left in our possession after midday on Erev Pesach. According to most poskim, these prohibitions apply both to chometz gamur (pure chometz) and to ta’aroves chometz (chometz mixed into another product). In addition, Chazal required us to search our homes and property the night before Pesach for chometz that we may have forgotten, the mitzvah we refer to as bedikas chometz. According to many authorities, this requirement of searching for chometz is, at times, required min haTorah, and certainly fulfills a Torah requirement.

In addition, Chazal created a penalty on a Jew who owned chometz during Pesach in violation of bal yira’eh and bal yimatzei, prohibiting this chometz from use forever, referring to the product involved as chometz she’avar alav haPesach. I will note that this financial incentive has often proved extremely effective in convincing marginally observant Jews to perform mechiras chometz.

Although a Jew may not own chometz on Pesach, there is nothing wrong with his selling his chometz to a non-Jew before it becomes prohibited. The Mishnah states explicitly that one may sell chometz to a non-Jew before Pesach. However, the Mishnah does not discuss whether I can sell my chometz and leave it in my home, knowing that the non-Jew does not intend to keep or use it. To be more specific, does the Jew’s expectation that he will receive the chometz back invalidate the sale? Also, does the non-Jew really intend to buy the chometz, or does he think that this is a charade, and that he is not really purchasing it? This would, of course, undermine the sale.

The Tosefta (Pesachim 2:6) provides us with background to these questions:

A Jew is travelling by ship and has with him chometz that he needs to dispose of before Pesach. However, the Jew would like the chometz back after Pesach, because there is a dearth of kosher food available. Apparently, the cruise liner being described by the Tosefta did not have a supervised kosher kitchen, nor any supervised airline dinners on board.

The Tosefta rules that the Jew may sell the chometz to a non-Jew before Pesach, and then purchase it back afterwards. Alternatively, the Jew may give the chometz to the non-Jew as a present, provided no conditions are attached. The non-Jew may then return the present after Pesach. Thus, we see that one may sell or give away chometz to a non-Jew and expect it back, without violating any halachos, provided that the agreement does not require the non-Jew to return it or sell it back.

In contemporary times, people usually do not undertake to sell their chometz themselves, but instead appoint a rav to sell the chometz for them. The reason for this is that the  non-Jew does not take the chometz with him; we leave it in our houses. Since this may have the appearance of a charade, the sale must be performed in a way that halacha recognizes as a valid sale. Since these laws are very detailed and complicated, it is better that a lay person not handle the arrangements for mechiras chometz by himself.

When I was in the first year of a previous rabbinical position, I realized shortly before Pesach that one of my shul members, who was an attorney by training, had not yet arranged sale of his chometz. I called him, asking him if this was an oversight. He answered me that he always arranged his own mechiras chometz by drawing up a contract with a non-Jewish business associate.

Halachically selling chometz via a written contract without any other maasei kinyan does not make the chometz the halachic property of the non-Jew. It might still work because of dina demalchusa dina or similar reasons too complex to explain in this article. The bottom line is that according to many halachic opinions, our lawyer violated the two Torah prohibitions of bal yira’eh and bal yimatzei by owning chometz on Pesach, and also the positive mitzvas aseih requiring that we destroy or otherwise cease our ownership of chometz before Pesach. Merely drawing up a contract with a non-Jew is certainly not the way to sell your chometz and be able to leave it in your house over Pesach. Be’dei’evid, after the fact, this sale would probably be considered valid enough that his chometz would not be prohibited as chometz she’avar alav haPesach. Unfortunately, I did not have a relationship with this attorney to explain to him why his plan was not the best approach to the problem. In other words, if you are an attorney trained in American law, realize that you may not be an expert in Anglo-Saxon common law, Chinese law, Napoleonic Code, the codes of Hammurabi, or halacha, even though we can correctly call halacha “Talmudic Law.”

One of the standard methods we use of guaranteeing that the sale of our chometz to the non-Jew is fully valid is to rent to him the area where the chometz is stored. Thus, we return to our first question as to whether I am permitted to enter that area for my own purposes.

There is also another concern involved in entering the area where the sold chometz is located: The Gemara states that it is permitted to have a non-Jew’s chometz in one’s house on Pesach, provided that a barrier the height of ten tefachim (about thirty-seven inches) is constructed around the chometz, presumably to guarantee that no one mistakenly eats it. So, we have two concerns:

(1)   Does entering the area invalidate the sale?

(2)   Is it prohibited to enter the area because of concern that I might eat the chometz?

Regarding the first question, whether entering the rented area violates the sale agreement, several authorities rule that it does not (see Chok Yaakov and Machatzis Hashekel, Orach Chayim 472:1). Regarding the second issue, whether entering the area is prohibited because of concern that you might eat the chometz, this question is raised by the halachic authorities (see commentaries to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 448:3). Most authorities conclude that it is permitted to enter the area for a brief period of time in order to remove something that was forgotten there (see Shu’t Nimla Tal, Orach Chayim, #167).

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions:

“On an occasional emergency basis, my daughter requires use of a medicine that is not listed as being chometz-free. Should we include this medicine with what we sell to the non-Jew, and if we do, what should we do if she needs it during Pesach?”

Most mechiras chometz contracts that I have seen allow for this. They specify that if someone should need a medicine that is sold, the non-Jew permits the use of the medicine, over which he maintains ownership, but that he will be compensated after Pesach for what was used. Since this provision does not exist in all mechiras chometz contracts, I suggest that someone who foresees that they may have this issue should clarify it in advance with the rav who is facilitating the mechiras chometz.

There is another basis to be lenient. Medicines generally do not have a good taste, except for medicines meant for children. Thus, most medicines are inedible, and, according to most poskim,not a chometz problem. Let me explain:

The Gemara states: One does not get punished for violating any prohibitions of the Torah unless he consumes them the way they are usually eaten (Pesachim 24b). It is not prohibited min hatorah to eat or drink a prohibited substance that is now inedible, either because it became spoiled or because a bitter ingredient was introduced (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 5:8).

Can chometz change its stripes so that it is no longer considered chometz? The answer is that it can lose its status as chometz – when it is decomposed or otherwise ruined to a point that it is nifsal mei’achilas kelev, a dog will no longer eat it (see Pesachim 45b). Since it no longer can be used for either food or feed, it loses its status as chometz that one is prohibited from owning and using on Pesach (Tosafos ad locum; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 442:9; cf. Rashi, Pesachim op cit., whose position is more lenient).

However, there is a question based on a passage of Gemara that states that chometz burnt before Pesach may be used on Pesach (Pesachim 21b). The rishonim raise the following question: Why does the Gemara say that one may benefit from the burnt chometz, but does not permit eating it, since it is no longer considered food and therefore not included under the prohibition of chometz?

There are two major approaches to answer this question, which result in a dispute in practical halachah. According to the Ran, since the burning rendered the chometz inedible even by an animal, one may even eat it, even though the Gemara does not mention this. This approach seems to have the support of the Rambam (Yesodei Hatorah 5:8), who permits consuming a prohibited beverage after a bitter ingredient was added to it.

However, the Rosh contends that the rabbis prohibited one from eating the inedible chometz because of a principle called achshevei, which means that by eating it one is treating it as food. Most later authorities follow the Rosh’s approach, prohibiting someone from ingesting inedible chometz because of this rabbinic prohibition (e.g., Terumas Hadeshen #129; Taz, Orach Chayim 442:8; Magen Avraham 442:15; Shaagas Aryeh #75).

Does oral intake of a chometz-based medicine qualify as achshevei? If it does, then it is prohibited to ingest inedible chometz even as medicine, unless the situation is life-threatening.

We find a dispute among later authorities whether ingesting medicine is prohibited because of achshevei. We can categorize the positions into three basic approaches:

1. Taking medicine is considered achshevei.

The Shaagas Aryeh (#75) rules that ingesting medicine is prohibited miderabbanan because of the rule of achshevei.

2. Taking medicine is not achshevei.

Rav Moshe Feinstein maintains that medicine never qualifies as achshevei. His reason is that people take even very bitter items for their medicinal value; thus taking something as a medicine does not demonstrate that one views it as food.

3. It depends on why the chometz is there.

The Chazon Ish advocates a compromise position. Although he agrees with the Shaagas Aryeh that consuming something as a medicine qualifies as achshevei, he contends that achshevei applies only to the active ingredient – the item for which one is taking the medicine. However, he maintains that achshevei does not apply to the excipient ingredients, those added so that the medicine can be made into a tablet.

According to Rav Moshe, as long as the medicine is foul-tasting, there is no need to check if it contains chometz. The chometz is nifsal mei’achilas kelev, and the consumption of medicine does not qualify as achshevei. The only need for a medicine list is when the medicine is pleasant tasting.

On the other hand, according to the Shaagas Aryeh, barring a situation of pikuach nefesh, one may not ingest a medicine containing chometz on Pesach, and it is important to research whether it contains chometz. According to the Chazon Ish, this is a concern only when the chometz is the active ingredient, which is rare in a tablet medicine.

A lay person should not decide on his or her own not to take a necessary medicine without consulting with a rav or posek, and, of course, their physician.

Even according to the Shaagas Aryeh, there is nothing wrong with owning or even benefiting from these medicines on Pesach – the only prohibition would be to ingest them. Thus, a Jewish-owned pharmacy is not required to remove from its shelves foul-tasting medicines that are on the prohibited chometz lists.

Regardless as to which approach one follows, one must be absolutely careful not to look down on someone who follows a different approach. In any situation such as this, this attitude will unfortunately cause great harm, since it can lead to feelings of conceit. Remember that the prohibition of chometz is to sensitize ourselves greater to concerns about conceit. It would be terribly ironic if an attempt at being more machmir in the halachic arena would cause someone to become conceited, the exact opposite of the intent of the mitzvah.

According to Kabbalah, searching for chometz is symbolic of searching internally to locate and remove our own arrogant selves. As we go through the mitzvos of cleaning the house, searching, burning, and selling the chometz, we should also try to focus on the spiritual side of this search and destroy mission.

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The Pesach Sleuth

Photo by Matus Laco from FreeImages

Imagine walking into a factory, noticing the ceiling, 25 feet overhead, lined with rows upon rows of similar-looking pipes. “How am I possibly supposed to know what goes through these pipes? How can I possibly check if they have been cleaned properly, and how can I possibly kasher them?”

When we purchase products for Pesach, we look for a hechsher that we respect, and we rely on that hechsher to make sure everything is done properly. Fortunately, an experienced mashgiach will know how to trace all those pipes and figure out what each one contains, although it will take him time to do so. Yet, most of us do not know what it is like to be in a factory that is supervising a Pesach-dik production run, nor do we know what it is like to be checking a factory to see if it is maintaining its kashrus program. We also don’t really know why one hechsher is acceptable and another is not. Most people apply the “What do the neighbors use?” system, or, more accurately, “What does the chevrah use?” or “Do bnei Torah eat from that hechsher?” approach. Although one article cannot answer most of these questions, it can provide some direction and background.

Pesach-dik ketchup

Let me begin with a typical kosher-for-Pesach story. Ketchup, a common North American household product that, in some households, is an irreplaceable staple, is a relatively simple product containing tomato paste, water, corn sweetener, vinegar, salt, spices and flavoring. Several of these ingredients require replacement for a Pesach-dik product. Corn sweetener is kitniyos, and would require replacing, probably with a kosher-lePesach sugar made from either cane or beets. Pure spices ground for industrial use should be fine, but spice extracts or oleoresins will require more research. The water should not present any problem, and the tomato paste and salt used for commercial production should also be fine, but it always pays for the hechsher to double check the manufacturer.

Both the vinegar and the flavoring could contain chometz, and almost certainly contain kitniyos if they did not come from a specially-made Pesach run. Let us see how these sensitive ingredients will be handled:

Vinegar

Regular vinegar, usually called white vinegar, is manufactured from alcohol processed with yeast, vinegar food, and perhaps other raw materials, until the alcohol turns to vinegar. Every one of these ingredients can involve a potential chometz issue: Alcohol is commonly produced from grain. Vinegar food may alsoinclude chometz ingredients. Kosher lePesach vinegar would require that the alcohol, the yeast and the vinegar food all be specially made from a non-chometz, non-kitniyos source. Assuming that the hechsher certifying the production of the ketchup is not the one that certified the vinegar, the rabbonim or poskim of the hechsher on the ketchup will decide which hechsher for Pesach-dik vinegar they will accept.

In theory, kosher lePesach vinegar could be  produced in a much easier way with virtually no halachic complications. Chemically, white vinegar is a solution of acetic acid and water. Pure acetic acid can be produced synthetically, and, therefore, a product identical to vinegar can be produced by simply mixing glacial acetic acid and water, which would be a very easy item to produce, simple to supervise ,and less expensive than kosher-lePesach vinegar.

So why not?

If it is much easier to produce kosher-lePesach vinegar this way, why is it not done? The answer is that it is illegal in the United States to call this product “vinegar,” notwithstanding that it is perfectly safe to use and will accomplish whatever the “vinegar” in your product will. In the United States, this ingredient must be labeled as “diluted glacial acetic acid” or something similar, and companies are concerned that customers will not purchase a product with this ingredient listed on the label.

Vinegar in the United States must be produced by the fermentation of alcohol, and the alcohol used for this production must also be fermented and distilled from sugars or starches. Nevertheless, there are many countries of the world where it is perfectly legal to use synthetically produced vinegar in food production and to label it as “vinegar.”

Flavoring

Ketchup requires the addition of herbs, spices or flavoring. The size of flavor-producing companies varies in as great a range as you can imagine. I have seen flavor companies that are quite literally mom-and-pop shops, and I have also been inside flavor factories the size of a small city. Some flavor companies manage without any major sophisticated equipment, whereas others own hundreds of production machines that each cost in the millions of dollars.

Spray towers

Here is a very practical example: Many products are dried today in a massive piece of equipment called a spray dryer or spray tower. The purpose of this piece of equipment, usually about the height of a three-story building, is to convert a liquid product into a powder. It does so by pumping the liquid until it is dropped through the top of the spray tower. In the tower, which is usually gas-fired, very hot air, usually about 500 degrees Fahrenheit, is forced along the inside walls of the tower, and the liquid product is dropped through the middle. The temperature is hot enough so that all the liquid evaporates, leaving behind a powder that drops to the bottom of the spray tower, where it is boxed or bagged.

Many thousands of spray towers are used in the United States alone. Possibly the most frequent use is to powder skim milk, which is highly perishable, into nonfat dry milk, which occupies a fraction of the space of the liquid product, and, if kept dry, has an indefinite shelf life without any refrigeration, thus making it very easy to store and ship.

Assuming that this spray tower is used only for milk, the major question that will occur is how to kasher it for a cholov Yisroel production. There are many halachic issues here, including that a spray tower physically cannot be filled with water and brought to a boil, which constitutes hag’alah, the most common way of kashering. Furthermore, it is unlikely that this method suffices to kasher the tower, since the absorption into the walls of the spray tower is without liquid.

Another option is to kasher the tower by use of a flame thrower, basically a larger form of a blow torch.

On the other hand, there are halachic authorities who contend that the spray dryer does not even require kashering, since the product is not supposed to touch its walls. Because of the tremendous heat that absorbs into the stainless steel walls of the dryer, product that touches them burns, and will probably pass distaste, nosein taam lifgam, into the final product. Some of these last-quoted authorities contend that a spray tower does not require kashering.

There are also companies that have contract spray-dry equipment. This means that the spray tower is not constantly in use for their product,and, not wanting to leave a very expensive piece of equipment idle,  they will spray dry other products during the “down” time, when they are not producing their own products. For example, I have seen wine powder, powdered meat extract, medicinal items, and even blood, spray dried on equipment that was also at times used for kosher supervised products.

At this point, let us return to our special kosher-for-Pesach ketchup production. A flavor whose components were spray dried, which is a fairly common procedure, would require researching what else was produced on this spray dryer, or attempting to kasher the spray dryer. All of these complicate the research involved in producing our kosher-lePesach ketchup.

To resolve all these potential complications, the flavors used for the production of this kosher-lePesach ketchup were ordered from a small manufacturer. The order was to use only pure essential oils that would be extracted by pressure — in other words, oil that is squeezed out of the spice source in what is called a “cold press” operation and without any extracting aids. Many essential oils are extracted using alcohols such as ethanol or glycerin, which could compromise the kashrus of the product.

Of course, a knowledgeable field representative was dispatched to oversee that the flavor company indeed followed the instructions and used only cold press essential oils.  The flavor company blended together these liquid oils and then added a significant amount of salt to the product. The reason for the addition of the salt was to dry out the finished spice so that it could be easily shipped and stored. From a kashrus perspective, this was certainly a far better alternative to using a spray-dried product and kashering the spray dryer.

Now our hechsher has successfully located all the ingredients and overseen the production of all the raw materials for the kosher-lePesach ketchup. The next step is to send a knowledgeable mashgiach to the production facility where the ketchup is to be manufactured, to ascertain how that equipment will be kashered prior to the Pesach run, and to clarify with the company its production schedule prior to the dates when the equipment will be kashered and the Pesach product manufactured. He also needs to check whether other products are being made in the facility, or a nearby facility, that uses the same heating system to produce chometz products.

And this is for a relatively simple product.

Having shown how a relatively simple Pesach-dik product is made, I will shift from the simple to what is possibly the most complicated: the kashering of hotels for Pesach, which has become a colossal international business. A glance at any frum newspaper includes advertisements marketing opportunities to spend Pesach on any continent, always only with non-gebrochtz, shemurah matzos, cholov Yisroel, and glatt kosher, under a rav’s strict supervision, with several prominent English speakers as scholars-in-residence, babysitting provided during the lectures, and many sightseeing activities available for Chol Hamo’eid. Yet, individuals interested in experiencing Yom Tov this way should be aware that kashering a hotel for Pesach is a mammoth and difficult process. It is even more difficult to do when the entire hotel is not being kashered for Pesach, when the hotel’s regular kitchen staff are used, or when the chef and sous-chefs are not halachically observant themselves.

By the way, travel tours create the most difficult issues regarding kashrus supervision. Many hechsherim will simply not supervise them because of the complications involved with traveling to different places and using products that are available locally. These issues become even more complicated when it comes to Pesach supervision.

Aside from the many nightmares I have heard regarding Pesach hotel hechsherim, I will share with you just one nightmare story of which I have firsthand knowledge. At one point in my career, I was in charge of the hechsherim in an area that encompassed a well-known tourist area. Simply put, if anything was supervised kosher in our area, I knew about it. There indeed were several reliably kosher tours, some of whom used our kashrus organization to supervise their activities and some who did not, but, it seemed to me, still maintained a fairly respectable kashrus standard.

Once, I saw an advertisement in the Anglo-Jewish press for a “glatt kosher tour” through our area. Since none of the tour companies with which I was familiar was involved, I called the number listed for reservations and inquired who was overseeing their kashrus in the area. The woman who answered the phone dutifully notified me that “Jim Klein oversees all food production and kashrus arrangements in that area.” I knew Jim well. Not only was he completely non-observant – he was married to a non-Jewish woman! Yet, the tour was advertized as glatt kosher, chassidisha shechitah. I have no idea if it was chassidisha shechitah, but it was certainly not glatt kosher, and halachically was not kosher at all!

For sure, we know not to use anything “supervised” by Jim. Can we eat something supervised by Yossel? The answer is that we rely on a hechsher that uses yir’ei shamayim personnel who are knowledgeable both in halacha and in the technical aspects of modern kashrus. Particularly, when we decide which Pesach products we allow into our home to enhance our simchas Yom Tov, we use only hechsherim that impress us with their expertise and their concern about the important role they play in our lives.

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Anointing Oil, Part II

Question Group #1: Who?

If the shemen hamish’cha (anointing oil) is used inappropriately, is the anointer liable, the anointed, or both of them?

Question Group #2: What?

If someone produces shemen hamish’cha inappropriately, is he liable, regardless how much he produced?

Question Group #3: Where?

Where is the shemen hamish’cha poured?

Where will we find the shemen hamish’cha today?

Introduction:

Parshas Ki Sissa contains the beautiful mitzvah of processing and using the anointing oil, the shemen hamish’cha, a mitzvah with which most people are not that familiar. I should, actually, say “three mitzvos,” since the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch note that there are three mitzvos, one positive mitzvah (mitzvas aseih) and two negative (lo saaseh) mitzvos:

(1) A mitzvas aseih (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Mitzvas Aseih #35; Chinuch, Mitzvah #107) to manufacture, use correctly, and treat this unique anointing oil in a special way.

(2) A lo saaseh not to pour the shemen hamish’cha onto a person who is not to use it (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Lo Saaseh #84; Chinuch, Mitzvah #108). We will see, shortly, that there are four categories of people who may be anointed with shemen hamish’cha. Anointing anyone else with the shemen hamish’cha violates this lo saaseh; furthermore, it also prohibited to smear or pour the shemen hamish’cha onto the skin of any person, even someone whom it is permitted to anoint with it. Thus, the Gemara states that a kohein gadol who smears shemen hamish’cha on his leg as a balm violates the prohibition of the Torah (Kerisus 7a).

(3) A lo saaseh not to blend a recipe equivalent to the shemen hamish’cha other than that which Moshe mixed (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Lo Saaseh #83; Chinuch, Mitzvah #109).

Last week’s article devoted itself to analyzing what are the correct components and quantities of the shemen hamish’cha.

Who?

At this point, I will explain the details of the mitzvah by addressing and answering our opening questions, the first of which was: Who may be anointed with the shemen hamish’cha?

There are four categories of people who are anointed with the shemen hamish’cha:

(1) All those designated as kohanim, at the time the Mishkan was dedicated.

(2) The kohein gadol.

(3) The kohein meshuach milchamah, the kohein anointed prior to the Jewish people going to war, for the purpose of encouraging them regarding their responsibilities.

(4) A king of the Jewish people who was a descendant of David Hamelech.

We will now examine the halachos of these four categories:

Seven days of dedication

As part of the pomp and ceremony of the seven days of dedication of the Mishkan, the five kohanim at the time, Aharon and his four sons, Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Isamar, were each anointed with the shemen hamish’cha every day (Vayikra, 3:13 and several times in Chapter 8; Kerisus 5b). During these seven days, all the vessels of the Mishkan were also anointed, daily, with the shemen hamish’cha.

This anointing was limited to the dedication week. Once the Mishkan’s dedication was complete, there was no longer any mitzvah to anoint any vessels or a kohein hedyot. The only use of the shemen hamish’cha, after this point, was to anoint people, and, as such, it was used to anoint only three people:

The kohein gadol

All future kohanim gedolim were also anointed with the shemen hamish’cha, when they assumed their position. However, approximately 25 years before the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, Yoshiyahu Hamelech, realizing that it was only a matter of time until the Beis Hamikdash would be destroyed and overrun,hid the aron and everything that it contained, which included the shemen hamish’cha, so that it would not be seized during the churban. The answer is that we do not know where Yoshiyahu buried it, and, until it is found, its location is an unsolved mystery. The Gemara assumes that, at some time in the future, it will be found and used (Kerisus 5b).

TheMishnah(Megillah 9b; Horiyos 11b) teaches that, in the absence of the shemen hamish’cha, there is still a kohein gadol. How is he installed into his position? Donning garments that only a kohein gadol may wear and performing the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash while wearing them elevates him to the position of kohein gadol.

Are there any differences in halacha between the kohein gadol who was anointed with shemen hamish’cha and the kohein gadol who was not? There are some halachic differences between the two, but the vast majority of mitzvos and responsibilities of the kohein gadol apply, whether or not he was anointed with shemen hamish’cha. The Mishnah (ad loc.) reports that the only difference between the two is whether he offers a special korban chatos, should he violate, negligently, a serious prohibition of the Torah. We should also note that not all tanna’im accept even this distinction between the kohein gadol who was anointed with shemen hamish’cha and one who was not (Rabbi Meir, as reported in the Gemara ad locum).

The kohein meshuach milchamah

The Torah teaches that, prior to the Jewish people going to war, a kohein hedyot was appointed, specifically, for a special role of exhorting the people prior to their going to battle and bolstering their spirit (Devarim 20:2-4). This kohein, called the meshuach milchamah, was anointed for his position with shemen hamish’cha. Halachically, he now had an in-between status – he had some of the laws of a kohein gadol and some of those of a kohein hedyot, a regular kohein (see Yoma 72b-73a; Horiyos 12b).

According to several acharonim, when there is no shemen hamish’cha, there can be no kohein meshuach milchamah. However, some acharonim note that Josephus refers to a kohein meshuach milchamah during the war against the Romans, which was several hundred years after Yoshiyahu had hidden the shemen hamish’cha (Minchas Chinuch).

Judaic kings

The kings of the Jewish nation, Shaul and Dovid, and those who continued Dovid’s lineage, could be anointed with the shemen hamish’cha. However, in this instance, there is a halachic difference between this anointing and that of the kohanim mentioned above, in two ways. First, the king was anointed with shemen hamish’cha only when there had been some dispute or controversy concerning who would become the new king. For example, since Shelomoh’s older brother Adoniyah had initially contended he would become king after Dovid Hamelech’s passing (see Melachim I, Chapter 1), Shelomoh was anointed, to verify his appointment (Kerisus 5b).

When all accepted the appointment of the new king, he was not anointed, but assumed his position, without this procedure.

The second difference between the anointing of the kohein gadol and that of the king is how the oil is applied to the head of the anointed. When a king was anointed, it was applied in a way reminiscent of a crown, whereas when a kohein gadol or kohein meshuach milchamah was anointed, the oil was applied following a different pattern. There are different girsa’os, texts,to the Gemara that explain what this pattern was, and consequently, a dispute among the rishonim as to exactly how the kohein gadol was anointed, some contending it was in the shape of a crisscross atop his head, others, that it was poured similar to three sides of a rectangle, and still others with various other understandings of the text.

We should note that, at times, a Jewish king not of the family of Dovid Hamelech was anointed, not with shemen hamish’cha, but with a different, special anointing oil that had no sanctity (Kerisus 5b).

Where?

At this point, we can answer another of our opening questions: “Where will we find the shemen hamish’cha today?”

The answer is that we do not know where Yoshiyahu buried it, and until it is found, its location is an unsolved mystery. The Gemara assumes that at some time in the future, it will be located (Kerisus 5b).

Moshiach’s arrival

Will the Moshiach require that he be anointed with shemen hamish’cha? After all, doesn’t the word “Moshiach” mean “the anointed one?”

The answer is that whether the shemen hamish’cha is found before the arrival of the Moshiach or not, he can fulfill his role.

If the oil is used inappropriately, is the anointer liable, the anointed, or both of them?

How much?

What is the amount of each of these ingredients, in modern measurements, that this mitzvah requires?

The Torah prohibition is violated only if someone uses the exact quantities of the different oils. However, if someone wants to have a sense of blending the shemen hamish’cha, it is permitted to mix the qualitative equivalent as long as the quantities are not the same. This is different from a similar mitzvah, also mentioned in this week’s parsha, about blending the ketores, the incense burned in the Beis Hamikdash, in which case it is forbidden to mix the same proportions of the ketores, even when the quantities are different.

Why is there this halachic difference between the two mitzvos? The answer is that the ketores was used in smaller proportions, and therefore blending it proportionally is similar to the way it was mixed in the Beis Hamikdashs. The shemen hamish’cha, on the other hand, was never used or made in smaller proportions, and therefore, there is nothing wrong with mixing it in smaller proportions.

Blending

Making a blend of shemen hamish’cha for a person’s own personal use.

In truth, the shemen hamish’cha was made only once in Klal Yisroel’s history, and that was when Moshe manufactured it in the Desert.

Using

As we saw above, the Torah prohibited using the shemen hamish’cha for a non-authorized purpose. However, it should be noted that the prohibition is only to use the shemen hamish’cha, itself, that was intended for holy purposes, and not for using a privately-made equivalent. In other words, making a blend of shemen hamish’cha is prohibited min haTorah, but there is no prohibition in using that privately-made blend. The prohibition is only to use the shemen hamish’cha made by Moshe Rabbeinu.

At this point, let us analyze another of our opening questions: If the oil is used inappropriately, is the anointer liable, the anointed, or both of them?

From the Gemara, we see that the anointer is certainly liable. The question is whether the anointed is, also, liable. The Tosefta (Makos 3:1) states that the anointed is also in violation. However, the Rambam does not mention this law, which prompts many acharonim to discuss why he does not.

Conclusion

Toward the end of parshas Ki Sissa, the Torah notes: “Three times a year, shall all your males appear before Hashem, the Master, the G-d of Israel.” This mitzvah focuses our attention on the central importance of the Beis Hamikdash for the Jewish people. Similarly, the shemen hamish’cha is closely connected to the Beis Hamikdash, and its use for the future of Klal Yisroel is primarily to anoint the kohein gadol. Thus, although we cannot observe the mitzvah today, studying its laws reminds us of the significant role that the Beis Hamikdash plays in the life of the Jewish people, and the realization of how much we are missing.

One of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s talmidim related to me the following story that he, himself, observed. A completely red, female calf had been born. Since this is, indeed, a rare occurrence, much conversation developed concerning whether this was positive indication that the Moshiach would be arriving soon, and this would provide the parah adumah necessary to make the Beis Hamikdash, the people and the vessels tahor.

Someone approached Rav Moshe to see his reaction to hearing this welcome news, and was surprised that Rav Moshe did not react at all. When asked further whether Rav Moshe felt that this was any indication of the Moshiach’s imminent arrival, Rav Moshe responded: “I daven every day for the Moshiach to come now. The parah adumah is not kosher until it is past its second birthday. Do you mean to tell me that I must wait two more years for the Moshiach?”

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What Happens When Purim Falls on Shabbos?

Question #1:

When do we distribute shalach manos and matanos la’evyonim on different days?

Question #2:

When do we read Megillas Esther after a tefillah in which we did not recite Al hanissim?

Question #3:

When do we read the daytime Megillas Esther without first reading the Torah?

Question #4:

How can one bensch on the Purim Seudah without saying Al hanissim?

The answer to all these questions is: When the fourteenth of Adar falls on Friday, and the fifteenth is on Shabbos. When this occurs, Jews living in Yerushalayim and other “walled cities” observe the mitzvos and halachos of Purim on three different days, some on Friday, some on Shabbos, and some on Sunday. This phenomenon is called “Purim Hameshulash,” “The Tripled Purim.” (Although, grammatically, it is Purim Hameshulash, people usually call it “Purim Meshulash.”)

Walled versus unwalled

Mordechai and Esther decreed that cities, towns and villages that have no surrounding wall observe Purim on the fourteenth of Adar, whereas walled cities observe Purim on the fifteenth. According to the Gemara, the walled cities of their decree referred to cities that had a wall at the time that Yehoshua and the Bnei Yisroel entered Eretz Canaan, plus the city of Shushan itself (even though it had no wall at that time). Because we are uncertain which cities were indeed walled that far back, only Yerushalayim and Shushan observe Purim completely on the fifteenth of Adar, although several other places observe both days because of halachic uncertainty. Thus, in ordinary years, as Purim ends in other parts of Eretz Yisrael, it is just beginning in Yerushalayim.

Why is this year different from all other years?

Because the fifteenth falls on Shabbos this year, we cannot fulfill many of the Purim mitzvos on Shabbos. Exactly which mitzvos cannot be fulfilled on Shabbos, and whether they are performed before or after Shabbos as a result, is sometimes the subject of a dispute. The conclusions of some of these disputes are, at times, quite interesting.

The Mishnah (Megillah 2a) instructs that when the fifteenth of Adar falls on Shabbos, the walled cities read Megillah on Friday, the fourteenth, the same day that the non-walled cities observe Purim.

Why not on Shabbos?

We do not blow the shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos nor do we fulfill the mitzvah of lulav and esrog, when the first day of Sukkos is on Shabbos. In both instances, we are concerned that someone might violate the Torah prohibition of carrying a shofar or a lulav on Shabbos in a public domain. Similarly, Chazal prohibited reading the Megillah on Shabbos, out of concern that someone might carry his megillah to an expert who will teach him how to read it (Megillah 4b). It is worth noting that according to many authorities, a Megillah scroll is muktzah on this Shabbos, since Chazal prohibited reading it (Pri Chodosh). Others contend that it is not muktzah, since the prohibition was only not to read the Megillah to fulfill the mitzvah, but one may study from it on Shabbos (Mishnah Berurah 308:22).

Why not postpone to Sunday?

If we cannot read the Megillah on Shabbos, why don’t we read it on Sunday rather than Friday? After all, when Tisha B’Av and Shiva Asar Be’Tammuz fall on Shabbos, they are postponed to Sunday and not moved forward to Friday. So, why is Megillah reading moved to Friday?

Answer: The Megillah states that the days of Purim, “lo ya’avru,” “should not pass by.” The Gemara explains that, therefore, one cannot postpone reading the Megillah past the fifteenth. Therefore, when residents of Yerushalayim cannot read the Megillah on Shabbos, they read it on Friday.

When do they say Al hanissim?

Although Chazal ruled that Yerushalayim residents read the Megillah on Friday, Purim in Yerushalayim is still on Shabbos, the fifteenth. Therefore, Yerushalmim recite Al hanissim in davening and bensching only on Shabbos, but not on Friday (Shu’t Maharalnach #32). Someone who mistakenly recited Al hanissim in davening or bensching on Friday in Yerushalayim does not repeat them (Birkei Yosef 688:14; Mishnah Berurah 688:17).

Similarly, the Torah reading on Purim, Vayavo Amalek, which recounts Amalek’s malicious attack on the Jews in the Desert (Shemos 17:8-16), is read on Shabbos in Yerushalayim, and not on Friday (Shu’t Maharalnach #32). It functions as the maftir on Shabbos. The haftarah recited afterwards describes Shaul’s defeat of Amalek (Shmuel I, Chapter 15) and is also read on Parshas Zachor, the previous Shabbos (Shu’t Maharalnach #32; Magen Avraham 688:8).

There is no reading of the Torah in Yerushalayim on Friday — thus, the Megillah is read without first reading the Torah, a unique phenomenon. Although Friday is not Purim, one should wear Shabbos clothes in honor of the Megillah reading and greet people the way one would on Purim, rather than as one would on a weekday (Seder Purim Hameshulash of Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, hereafter called simply “Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld”).

Special takanah

Although in Yerushalayim we do not read the Megillah on Shabbos, Chazal instituted a replacement to remind people that Shabbos is Purim. It is a mitzvah to hold shiurim on Shabbos that discuss the midrashim of the Purim story (Megillah 4a; see Rashi and Ran; Magen Avraham 688:9).

So far, we have explained some of the observances of Friday and Shabbos of “Purim Meshulash.” How did Sunday become part of the Purim observances?

The answer to this question is halachically and historically intriguing.

When do you eat the Purim seudah?

If Purim is, technically, on Shabbos, why not eat the Purim seudah as the Shabbos seudah, and add another kugel, as is the practice on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh?

The answer is that the Talmud Yerushalmi derives from various verses that the eating of the Purim seudah cannot be on Shabbos, but is postponed until after Shabbos. Although the reading of the Megillah cannot take place after the fifteenth, the festive meal may (Megillah 1:4, quoted by the Rif 3a). Thus, according to most opinions, Yerushalmim celebrate the Purim seudah on Sunday (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 688:6).

Why is Sunday a more appropriate day to celebrate the seudah than Friday? Since Friday is not Purim in a walled city, Chazal postponed the main celebration of Purim to Sunday, rather than hold it on Friday, which makes it harder to prepare for Shabbos (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld).

According to one opinion, the Yerushalmi means that one should eat the Purim seudah on Motza’ei Shabbos (Meshech Chachmah to Megillas Esther). To the best of my knowledge, no one follows this approach.

Controversial meals!

In the sixteenth century, the Rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Levi ibn Chaviv, often called Maharalnach, ruled that when the fifteenth of Adar falls on Shabbos, one should eat the Purim seudah, including the special merriment and drinking, on Shabbos, not on Sunday. Although he agreed that, according to the Talmud Yerushalmi, the Purim seudah and celebration should take place on Sunday, he contended that the Talmud Bavli disagrees, and that the halacha follows the Bavli. Maharalnach rallied support from several rishonim that one should celebrate the Purim seudah on Shabbos, and not on Sunday, which is after Purim.

Although some poskim rule like Maharalnach (Taz, Orach Chayim 688:8), the consensus of poskim is to follow the Yerushalmi and celebrate the Purim meal on Sunday (Magen Avraham 688:10; Mishnah Berurah 688:18; Chazon Ish 155:1). However, the custom is to serve an extra course on Shabbos in honor of the Maharalnach’s ruling (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld).

In addition to the above opinions, some poskim contend that Yerushalmim should eat the Purim Seudah on Friday, the same day that they read the Megillah (Meiri, Megillah 5a). It is curious to note that all opinions except that of Maharalnach agree that Yerushalmim should eat the Purim seudah on a day when they do not recite Al hanissim. Thus, one bensches on Shabbos with Al hanissim, but without fulfilling the mitzvah of seudas Purim, and one fulfills the mitzvah of seudas Purim on a day that is not Purim, without reciting Al hanissim. Some add Al hanissim to the end of bensching, as part of the “Harachaman’s” (Kaf Hachayim 688:48). Since Yerushalmim celebrate Purim on Sunday, they should wear Shabbos clothes and wish people Purim greetings on that day, also (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld).

It is also interesting to note that, according to Maharalnach, there is no such thing as “Purim Meshulash,” since all the observances of Purim are either on Friday or on Shabbos. This results in another dispute. Although the davening of the Sunday after Purim is that of an ordinary weekday, since it is the day that Yerushalmim celebrate Purim, they omit tachanun and la’me’natzei’ach (Rav Chayim Sonnenfeld). However, according to Maharalnach, they should recite tachanun and la’me’natzei’ach.

Matanos la’evyonim and Shalach manos

All opinions agree that Yerushalmim distribute matanos la’evyonim on Friday — the day they read the Megillah (Shu’t Maharalnach #32). This is because of the Gemara’s statement that one should give matanos la’evyonim on the day that one reads the Megillah, because the poor expect to receive their matanos on that day (Megillah 2b). A Yerushalmi who forgot to give matanos la’evyonim on Friday should give them on Sunday (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld).

The poskim dispute when Yerushalmim distribute shalach manos in a year of Purim Meshulash. According to the Maharalnach quoted above, just as they celebrate the seudah on Shabbos, so, too, they distribute shalach manos on Shabbos, obviously without violating carrying on Shabbos (Taz, Orach Chayim 688:8). Many poskim object to this ruling, contending that Chazal would never have instituted shalach manos in a way that could easily lead to chillul Shabbos, chas ve’shalom (Chazon Ish 155:1).

If one does not distribute shalach manos on Shabbos, are they given on Friday or on Sunday? Some poskim contend that Yerushalmim should distribute shalach manos on Friday, when they distribute matanos la’evyonim (Chazon Ish 155:1). Most poskim rule that one should give shalach manos on Sunday, since this is the day of the Purim meal and the main day of festivities (Shu’t Radbaz #508; Mishnah Berurah 688:18). This is based on the Rambam, who implies that the observance of shalach manos and of the seudah are interrelated (Hilchos Megillah 2:15).

Later poskim recommend distributing a minimal amount of shalach manos on both Friday and Shabbos, to fulfill the minority opinions (of course, exercising care on Shabbos not to violate carrying), and to give most of one’s shalach manos on Sunday (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld).

Costumes

On which day do we wear costumes?

Even this question is discussed by poskim. The conclusion is that one should wear them on the day that is celebrated with wine and a festive meal — which is Sunday (Piskei Teshuvos 696:14).

Shehechiyanu

On a typical Purim, when hearing Shehechiyanu prior to the reading of the Megillah, one should have in mind to include the other mitzvos of the day — shalach manos, matanos la’evyonim and the seudah (Magen Avraham 692:1). However, on Purim Meshulash, Yerushalmim will not fulfill shalach manos (according to most opinions) and the seudah on the day they hear the Shehechiyanu. What should they do?

Some poskim recommend eating a new fruit or wearing a new garment on Sunday, in order to recite a Shehechiyanu and to have in mind the mitzvos of the day. (According to Maharalnach, one would do this on Shabbos.) Others simply recommend having in mind these other mitzvos at the time of the recital of the Shehechiyanu when the Megillah is read, even though it is a day or two before these mitzvos are fulfilled (both approaches are mentioned in Purim Hameshulash of Rav Seraya Dovlitzki).

Traveling

Someone planning ahead for Purim asked me the following shaylah:

The Friedmans, who live in Yerushalayim, want to spend Shabbos, the fifteenth of Adar, with relatives in Bnei Brak. Is there any reason why they shouldn’t? After all, they will hear Megillah in Yerushalayim, anyway, on Friday, and they will be back in Yerushalayim on Sunday to distribute shalach manos and to eat the Purim seudah.

According to some poskim, the mitzvos of the Purim seudah and shalach manos on Sunday apply only to people who were in Yerushalayim on the fifteenth. By spending Shabbos outside Yerushalayim, the Friedmans would lose the opportunity to fulfill these mitzvos (Piskei Teshuvos 688:12). Therefore, if they leave Yerushalayim for Shabbos, they should spend the fourteenth in Bnei Brak and fulfill all the mitzvos on Friday. Other authorities are not concerned about this.

No minyan

Because Yerushalmim read the Megillah on a day that is not Purim for them, two other interesting halachos apply. Firstly, a Yerushalmi should be extra careful to hear Megillah with a minyan this year. This is because it is questionable if one fulfills the mitzvah without a minyan, since the fourteenth is not Purim in Yerushalayim (see Ran, Megillah 5a).

The background to this issue is as follows: To fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah, one must read it in a way that accomplishes pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miracle. One can accomplish this in one of two ways — either by reading the Megillah on Purim or by reading it in the presence of a minyan (Megillah 5a). However, a Yerushalmi reading Megillah on the fourteenth without a minyan lacks both types of pirsumei nisa, since it is not Purim in Yerushalayim. According to the Mishnah Berurah (690:61), a Yerushalmi who cannot assemble a minyan for Megillah should not recite a bracha on the reading. (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld disagrees, reporting that the minhag in Yerushalayim is to recite a bracha.)

A non-Yerushalmi

According to many poskim, a non-Yerushalmi does not fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah on the fourteenth, if he heard it read by a Yerushalmi. Two introductions are needed to explain this ruling.

First, for one person to be motzi another in a mitzvah, they must both be obligated to an equal degree. For example, a person who is obligated to perform a mitzvah only miderabbanan cannot be motzi someone who has an obligation min haTorah. Thus, a child cannot make kiddush to be motzi an adult, since the child is not obligated min haTorah to fulfill the mitzvah, whereas the adult is.

Second, although both Yerushalmim and non-Yerushalmim read the Megillah this year on the fourteenth, the non-Yerushalmim read it because it is their Purim and it fulfills the mitzvah of Megillah, as established by Mordechai and Esther. However, according to many poskim, the Yerushalmim read Megillah on the fourteenth because of a takanas chachamim of a later date that prevents them from reading Megillah on their Purim (Turei Even, Megillah 5a). This takanas chachamim may not fulfill the mitzvah to the same extent as the original mitzvah created by Mordechai and Esther (Mikra’ei Kodesh).

As a result of these considerations, a Yerushalmi reading Megillah for a non-Yerushalmi on the fourteenth may be similar to a child reading Megillah for an adult, which is invalid. Other authorities disagree with this conclusion.

The following case will crystallize this shaylah for us. Yankel begins Purim in Beit Shemesh and then decides to leave for Yerushalayim on the morning of the fourteenth, assuming he will hear the Megillah in Yerushalayim. Besides the fact that he will miss kerias haTorah since there is no kerias haTorah in Yerushalayim on Friday, it is also questionable whether he fulfills the mitzvah of Megillah when he hears it read by a Yerushalmi.

Conclusion

The pasuk tells us that the events of Purim resulted in “ve’nahafoch hu,” “It turned around” — on the day declared for our extinction, the Jews turned the tables on their enemies. A different type of ve’nahafoch hu occurs on Purim Meshulash, in that many observances of Purim become turned upside down. We recite Al hanissim on a day that we do not observe the Purim seudah and we celebrate the Purim seudah without reciting Al hanissim. We read Megillah on a day that we do not read the Torah, because we do not consider it Purim. Yerushalmim do not distribute matanos la’evyonim and shalach manos on the same day. All these “turned around” observances create a very different Purim experience.

Leshanah Habaah Bi’Yerushalayim!

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Anointing Oil

Question #1: Who?

Who may be anointed with the shemen hamish’cha?

Question #2: What?

What are the ingredients of the shemen hamish’cha?

Question #3: Where?

Where is the shemen hamish’cha poured?

Introduction:

Parshas Terumah contains the first reference to the anointing oil used to dedicate the Mishkan and to consecrate the kohein gadol and the Jewish kings. Next week’s parsha, Ki Sissa, contains the beautiful mitzvah of processing this oil, called the shemen hamish’cha, a mitzvah with which most people are not that familiar. I should actually say “three mitzvos,” since the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch note that there are three mitzvos, one positive mitzvah (mitzvas aseih) and two negative mitzvos (lo saaseh):

(1) A mitzvas aseih (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Mitzvas Aseih #35; Chinuch, Mitzvah #107) to manufacture, use correctly, and treat this unique anointing oil in a special way. We see from the Torah that blending the shemen hamish’cha and “anointing” with it the various keilim used in the Mishkan fulfilled the mitzvah. We also see that the mitzvah includes “treating the shemen hamish’cha as holy,” although it is unclear, at this point, what that entails.

(2) A lo saaseh not to pour the shemen hamish’cha onto a person when unauthorized (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Lo Saaseh #84; Chinuch, Mitzvah #108). We will see that there are four categories of people who may be anointed with shemen hamish’cha. Anointing anyone else with the shemen hamish’cha violates this lo saaseh; furthermore, it is also prohibited to smear or pour the shemen hamish’cha onto the skin of any person, even someone whom it is permitted to anoint with it. Thus, the Gemara states that a kohein gadol who smears shemen hamish’cha on his leg as a balm violates the prohibition of the Torah (Kerisus 7a).

(3) A lo saaseh not to blend a recipe equivalent to the shemen hamish’cha that Moshe mixed (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Lo Saaseh #83; Chinuch, Mitzvah #109).

Let us begin by quoting the first posuk that describes this mitzvah (Shemos 30:22-23): “And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘And you – take for yourself the best of the fragrances.’” Because of the difficulty in ascertaining the precise meaning of many of the terms for fragrances used by the Torah, I will often transliterate the word and then explain what it means.

The Torah tells us that five ingredients were used in the anointing oil: (A) Five hundred holy shekel-weights of mor deror;(B) Fragrant kinneman, half of which is 250 holy shekel-weights; (C) Fragrant cane or reed – 250 holy shekel-weights; (D) Five hundred holy shekel-weights of kiddah; (E) A hin of olive oil.

As we will soon see, the identity of these ingredients is disputed. Furthermore, the tanna’im disagree whether the various fragrances were extracted by boiling them in the olive oil, or whether they were extracted in water and then blended into the olive oil (Kerisus 5a-b).

The posuk begins with Hashem saying to Moshe: “And you – take for yourself.” This implies that Moshe had a specific relationship with the shemen hamish’cha. The Gemara explains that the shemen hamish’cha was made only one time – by Moshe Rabbeinu (Kerisus 5a). Forever after, the laws governing when the shemen hamish’cha may be used apply only to the oil manufactured by Moshe Rabbeinuin the Desert.

How much kinneman?

How many units of kinneman are used? In other words, what do the words, “kinneman, half of which is 250 shekel,” mean? And, if it means simply that we are to take 500 shekel-weight of kinneman,why not say so, clearly?

The Gemara explains that, to make sure that enough fragrance was used, it was required to add a small amount of spice more than the weight used to balance against it. Thus, the shemen hamish’cha contained a bit more than 500 shekel-weights of mor deror and of kiddah, and a bit more than 250 shekel-weight of fragrant reeds. However, the fragrant kinneman was brought in two measures of 250 holy shekel-weights, and each of these was weighed separately (Kerisus 5a). So, there actually was a little more kinneman than mor deror or fragrant cane.

What are its ingredients?

What are the ingredients of the shemen hamish’cha? The Torah describes that Moshe is to take four fragrant items: mor, kinneman, knei bosem and kiddah. The rishonim dispute regarding the correct identity of every one of these fragrances.

Mor

According to Rav Saadya Gaon and the Rambam, mor is what we call, in English, musk, a glandular extract from various animals. Although most of them, such as the muskrat, civet and otter are non-kosher, there is a variety of deer and a variety of wild ox, both of them kosher species, that might be the source.

The ibn Ezra and the Raavad disagree with the Rambam. The ibn Ezra contends that the Rambam’s interpretation does not fit the description of the word mor in other pesukim in Tanach (Shir Hashirim 5:1, 5); whereas the Raavad argues that the Torah would not want an extract of a non-kosher species in the Mishkan. Both of these questions are resolved by later rishonim (see Rabbeinu Bachya).

Those who disagree with Rav Saadya Gaon and the Rambam usually suggest that mor is myrrh, a tree exudate (also called a gum) of the species Commiphora myrrha and related varieties.

Kinneman

In Modern Hebrew, the word kinneman means what we call, in English, “cinnamon,” whose scientific name is either Cinnamomum zeylanicum or Cinnamomum lourerii. Obviously, all of these names are cognate to the Hebrew and derived from it. However, this does not necessarily prove that cinnamon is the correct species. Among the rishonim, there are many opinions as to the correct identity of kinneman; the Ramban, for example, quotes four different opinions. Rashi does, indeed, identify kinneman as what is probably cinnamon, but it is quite clear that the Rif, the Rambam and others do not. The Ramban, in disputing Rashi’s opinion, notes that several midrashim describe kinneman as a field grass that goats forage – certainly not a description of cinnamon or any other tree bark. The Rif describes kinneman as being similar in appearance to straw. Among the candidates suggested for kinneman, according to this approach, is muskroot, also called sumbul or sumbal, which bears the scientific name of Adoxa moschatellina. Another possibility is palmarosa, also called Indian geranium or ginger grass, whose scientific name is Cymbopogon martinii. Thus, although the English word cinnamon is derived from the Hebrew, this could be a case of false identification, as is true in many such uses of Hebrew cognates.

Fragrant smelling reed

The Ramban (Commentary to Shemos 30:34) identifies knei bosem, fragrant-smelling cane or reed, with a species called, in Arabic, darasini, which I am told is the Arabic word for cinnamon. Thus, the Ramban agrees with Rashi that cinnamon is one of the spices used in the shemen hamish’cha, but disagrees as to which Hebrew word refers to it. There will be a difference between them as to how much cinnamon is included, since there are 500 shekel-weights of kinneman and only 250 of “fragrant smelling reeds.”

Kiddah

According to Rashi and Targum Onkelos, the Aramaic word for kiddah is ketziyah, which is cognate to, and usually translated as, cassia, a tree whose scientific name is Cinnamomum cassia, which is similar to cinnamon and also has a fragrant bark. Again, this identification is not certain. The Rambam calls it “kost” (often pronounced and printed with the Hebrew letter shin as kosht), which is usually assumed to be costos, the root of an annual herb called Sausurea lappa.

From the explanation that the Ramban provides to the ketores (Commentary to Shemos 30:34), it can be demonstrated that he disagrees with both Rashi and the Rambam, and identifies kiddah as a different herb. Among the species I have seen suggested are Castus speciosus, but this is merely conjecture.

How is it used?

Let us now continue the posuk: “You shall make with it oil for sacred anointment, blended together, processed as an apothecary does – and it will be oil for sacred anointment. With it you shall anoint the Tent of Assembly (the Mishkan), the Ark of Testimony (the Aron), the Table and all its implements, the Menorah and all its implements, the incense altar, the olah altar and all its implements, the laver and its stand… And you shall anoint Aharon and his sons… Furthermore, you shall tell the children of Israel – ‘This holy anointing oil shall be for Me, for all your generations. It shall not be poured on a person’s flesh, and any likeness of its formulation shall not be made; it is sacred, and you must always treat it as such. Any person who will blend anything similar to it, or put it on a zar (a person who may not be anointed with it) will be cut off from his people’” (Shemos 30: 25-33).

Before we continue, let us explain: What is the posuk emphasizing when it says: “This holy anointing oil shall be for Me, for all your generations?”

The Gemara explains that, notwithstanding that the shemen hamish’cha was used to anoint the kohanim, the vessels, and the kings, when the original hin of anointing oil is found, it will be found in its entirety. In other words, although the shemen hamish’cha is used, miraculously, the original amount never dissipates (Kerisus 5b; Horiyos 11b).

Qualitative or quantitative?

What do the words, “any likeness of its formulation shall not be made” mean? The answer is that the prohibition of blending the shemen hamish’cha is violated only when someone uses the exact quantities of the different fragrances. However, if someone blends the correct proportions of the shemen hamish’cha, but not the same amounts that were mixed by Moshe, there is no violation. In other words, someone who produces a mock shemen hamish’cha by mixing the five ingredients in the correct proportions, but in larger or smaller quantities than those described, is not guilty of violating the prohibition. This is in contrast to the prohibition of manufacturing the ketores, the incense burned in the Beis Hamikdash, which is violated by making the correct proportions of its different fragrances, even when the quantities are different (Kerisus 5a).

Why is there this halachic difference between the two mitzvos? The answer is that the ketores was used in smaller proportions, and therefore, blending it proportionally in smaller quantities is similar to the way it was used. The shemen hamish’cha, on the other hand, was never used or made in smaller proportions, and therefore, it is not prohibited to mix it in smaller amounts.

Kareis

Both of these prohibitions, blending the shemen hamish’cha and using the shemen hamish’cha, carry with them the severe punishment of kareis (“will be excised”). This is unusual, because kareis is usually reserved for severe and basic violations of the Torah, such as idolatry, blasphemy, desecrating Shabbos or Yom Kippur, eating or drinking on Yom Kippur, consuming chometz on Pesach, failure to have a bris milah, and arayos (Mishnah Kerisus 2a). Almost all the mitzvos of kashrus are not punishable by kareis, meaning that they are considered a lesser level of violation than using the shemen hamish’cha inappropriately or blending your own shemen hamish’cha. This certainly provides much food for thought.

I will continue this article in two weeks.

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Like Pulling Teeth

In honor of the Aseres Hadibros:

Question #1: Pulling Teeth

May I pull teeth on Shabbos?

Question #2: Clipping Fingernails

Does clipping fingernails on Shabbos involve a Torah prohibition?

Question #3: Digging Up

On Yom Tov, may I dig up earth to perform the mitzvah of kisuy hadam?

Introduction:

Each of our opening questions involves a complicated and often misunderstood concept of the laws of Shabbos, called melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. This topic is the subject of a machlokes between the tanna’im Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon, as to whether it is forbidden min haTorah or miderabbanan: Rabbi Yehudah contends that it is prohibited min haTorah, and Rabbi Shimon rules that it is prohibited only as a rabbinic decree. I deliberately did not yet translate the term melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, since this might bias the reader toward one interpretation over another.

What we do need to understand is that the laws of Shabbos and Yom Tov are qualitatively different from most other mitzvos and prohibitions of the Torah; regarding these laws the motive is a factor as to whether an action is prohibited.

At this stage, the basic questions we must resolve include:

  • What is the definition of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah?
  • Since all opinions agree that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is prohibited, what difference does it make whether the prohibition is min haTorah or miderabbanan?

Some examples

As is typical, the Gemara does not define melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, but does provide numerous instances of the principle. This article will present some of the cases and endeavor to illustrate how some rishonim explain the concept. I will then explain some of the halachic differences that result.

Here are some cases that the Gemara cites of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. In all of them, Rabbi Yehudah ruled that they are prohibited min haTorah, whereas Rabbi Shimon prohibited them only miderabbanan.

  • Carrying a corpse out of a building so that a kohen may enter (see Mishnah Shabbos 93b).
  • Extinguishing a fire to help someone fall asleep (Mishnah Shabbos 29b and Gemara Shabbos 30a). In modern times, we would talk about turning off a light for the same purpose.

There are also some cases that most, but not all, authorities consider to be cases of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah:

  • Lancing an infection to allow the pus to drain (Shabbos 107a).
  • Catching a snake to prevent it from biting someone (Shabbos 107a). All agree that this is permitted if it is a life-threatening emergency. The case in question is where the snake bite cannot kill, but may be very painful.

In the last two cases, some contend that these are permitted only in a life- threatening emergency, whereas others contend that the prohibition is only rabbinic, and therefore permit it. This is because, when the prohibition is only a rabbinic injunction, Chazal permit these measures for safety or medical reasons, even when the situation poses no threat to life.

Tosafos’ definition

At this point, I will provide three approaches to explain melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. Tosafos (Shabbos 94a s.v. Rabbi Shimon; Chagigah 10b s.v. meleches) explains that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah means that the activity was performed for a purpose that is different from the purpose of this melacha when the Mishkan was built. For example, in the Mishkan, all carried items were transported because they were needed in the place to which they were brought. Thus, carrying an item in order to remove it from its current place, and not because you want it in its new location, qualifies as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. Therefore, when you want a kohen to be able to enter a building and, to allow this, you carry the meis outdoors, that is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. Your reason for moving the meis is not so that it will be outdoors, but rather so that it will not be in the house.

Clipping fingernails

Clipping fingernails and all other cases of removing something from a living thing are prohibited on Shabbos because of the melacha of gozeiz, shearing sheep; building the Mishkan required wool. In the Mishkan, sheep were shorn in order to use the wool. Therefore, removing the horn of a rhinoceros or the tusks from an elephant, in order to use them, is prohibited min haTorah as a form of gozeiz. (There is discussion among halachic authorities whether gozeiz applies if the animal is dead. According to those who contend that it does not, you would be in violation of gozeiz only by removing horns or tusks from living rhinos or elephants — probably not such a good idea, even on a weekday.)

In the case of clipping nails, the melacha “benefits” the body, not the nails, which is different from the melacha of gozeiz as performed in the Mishkan. Therefore, Tosafos explains that, according to Rabbi Shimon, clipping fingernails on Shabbos is prohibited only miderabbanan,but not min haTorah. (We should note that another rishon,the Rivosh, agrees with Tosafos’ definition of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, but disagrees with this application. He contends that clipping fingernails is prohibited min haTorah, even according to Rabbi Shimon, because some cases of gozeiz in the Mishkan involved benefit to what is being shorn and not exclusively to the item being removed – Shu”t Harivosh #394.)

According to Tosafos, the words melacha she’einah tzericha legufah mean a melacha that was not for the purposes of the Mishkan.

Ramban’s approach

Although some rishonim understand melacha she’einah tzericha legufah the way Tosafos does, most do not. The Ramban (Shabbos 94b) explains melacha she’einah tzericha legufah as: you are not interested in the specific result. In the case of carrying the meis out of the house, although you are carrying it from an enclosed area (a reshus hayachid) to an open area meant for public use (a reshus harabim), your goal is to remove the meis from the house. If you could have it disappear completely, your immediate needs would be addressed. You are carrying the meis into a reshus harabim only because this is the simplest way to resolve the issue, not because you have any interest in performing an act of carrying into a reshus harabim on Shabbos.

The subtle difference between Tosafos and the Ramban can perhaps best be explained by providing an example: According to the Ramban, clipping fingernails is prohibited min haTorah, even according to Rabbi Shimon, because your goal is to remove the nails from your fingers, and that is what you are doing. The fact that, in the Mishkan, this melacha was performed to use the item clipped off is not relevant. According to the Ramban, the words melacha she’einah tzericha legufah mean that the person doing the melacha she’einah tzericha legufah gains nothing from the result of the melacha activity. He is doing the act of the melacha to remove a problem, not because he has any need for the result.

Here is another case in which Tosafos and the Ramban would disagree: Let’s say someone picks a fight with an enemy on Shabbos and mauls him with a mean uppercut, drawing blood. According to the Ramban, this is prohibited min haTorah, according to all opinions. The reason is that his goal when he punched was to draw blood, and he successfully accomplished his purpose. However, according to Tosafos, this is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, since in the Mishkan the purpose of drawing blood was to make the animal into a useful “implement,” which is a different intent from that of the puncher.

Here is a case where both Tosafos and the Ramban agree on the halacha, but disagree as to why this is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. Building a fire or burning wood, according to both of them, does not qualify as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah; it is prohibited min haTorah, even according to Rabbi Shimon. The reasons Tosafos and the Ramban conclude this are slightly different. According to Tosafos, the reason is because kindling and burning were performed in the Mishkan in order to process the vat dyes that were used: techeiles, argaman, and tolaas shani. Therefore, burning wood to cook is a similar activity to what was performed in building the Mishkan. According to the Ramban, Rabbi Shimon considers this a melacha min haTorah because the goal when performing the melacha is to burn the wood, and that is the forbidden outcome.

Opinion of the Baal Hama’or

A third opinion, that of the Baal Hama’or (Shabbos 106a), is that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah means a melacha performed when the improvement occurs not to the item on which the melacha is performed, but to a different item. In his opinion, the words melacha she’einah tzericha legufah mean an act in which the item upon which the melacha is performed does not improve because of the action.

Thus, clipping one’s nails is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah and, according to Rabbi Shimon, is not prohibited min haTorah, since the nails are not improved by the clipping. Thus, in this particular case, the Baal Hama’or agrees with Tosafos and disagrees with the Ramban.

On the other hand, here is a case that the Baal Hama’or and the Ramban agree that even Rabbi Shimon considers a violation of Shabbos min haTorah, whereas Tosafos disagrees. Among some populations, livestock are used for an interesting harvesting operation. The owners draw blood, which is a highly nourishing beverage, from their livestock, in a way similar to the method in which we humans donate blood. They then drink the blood, either straight or mixed with milk. (By the way, it is permitted for a non-Jew to harvest and drink blood this way, which is a topic for a different time.) Our question is whether this action would violate melacha on Shabbos min haTorah or only miderabbanan.

According to Tosafos, since blood was not drawn for this purpose in the Mishkan, it is prohibited miderabbanan, according to Rabbi Shimon. However, according to both the Baal Hama’or and the Ramban, this is prohibited min haTorah even according to Rabbi Shimon, although there is a subtle difference as to why. According to the Baal Hama’or, this is prohibited min haTorah because the melacha is performed on the blood, and this is a positive result (from a human perspective) because you now have access to the blood. According to the Ramban, this is also prohibited min haTorah, because the perpetrator’s goal is to have blood at his disposal, and he has accomplished this.

Bad odor

Here is an example where all the opinions quoted agree that it is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah: Moving an item that has a bad odor from a reshus hayachid, an enclosed area, into a reshus harabim, an open area meant for public use. Although moving something from a reshus hayachid into a reshus harabim constitutes the melacha of carrying, moving the foul-smelling item from a house to a reshus harabim does not constitute a melacha min haTorah, according to Rabbi Shimon, because the purpose of the carrying for the Mishkan was to move the item to an accessible location. However, when removing a foul-smelling item, there is no significance attached to the place to which the item is moved; one’s goal is only to distance it from its current location. The public area does not constitute the goal of one’s act, but rather a convenient place to deposit unwanted material. I note that although all three rishonim that I have quoted are in agreement regarding this ruling, there is at least one early authority, Rav Nissim Gaon (Shabbos 12a), who disagrees and considers this action to be a Torah prohibition even according to Rabbi Shimon.

Clipping fingernails

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: Does clipping fingernails involve a Torah prohibition on Shabbos?

According to Tosafos’ understanding of Rabbi Shimon’s opinion, and also according to the Baal Hama’or,this is prohibited only miderabbanan. However, according to the other opinions we have mentioned, this is prohibited min haTorah, even according to Rabbi Shimon.

In practical halacha, the question is: When there is a pressing but not life-threatening need to clip or trim nails on Shabbos, is it permitted to have a non-Jew do so? (See Nekudos Hakesef, Yoreh Deah 198:21; Biur Halacha 340:1 s.v. vechayov.)

I am limiting this discussion about melacha she’einah tzericha legufah to these three approaches, notwithstanding that there are many opinions how to explain the concept, with many differences in halacha (see, for example, Rav Nissim Gaon, Shabbos 12a; Tosafos Rid, Shabbos 107b and 121b; Meginei Shelomoh, Shabbos 94a; Mirkeves Hamishneh, beginning of Hilchos Shabbos; Yeshu’os Yaakov, Orach Chayim 319:1).

How do we rule?

Does the halachic conclusion follow Rabbi Yehudah or Rabbi Shimon? This, itself, is a major dispute among the rishonim. The Rambam and others rule that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is prohibited min haTorah, following Rabbi Yehudah, while others rule that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is prohibited only miderabbanan, following Rabbi Shimon. It is even unclear which way the Shulchan Aruch and the later poskim rule.

What difference does it make?

We find that Chazal were lenient in several halachic issues that involve melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. For example, under certain circumstances, because of pain or illness, they permitted performing a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. (Those who rule that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah violates a Torah law permit this only when the situation is life threatening, or because of a different halachic reason).

Here is another situation in which many halachic authorities are lenient. As we are aware, most food preparation activities are permitted on Yom Tov, at least min haTorah. We may find it strange, but it is permitted to shecht on Yom Tov. Prior to the discovery of refrigeration, this was the easiest way to supply fresh meat for Yom Tov. (Although this may sound a bit pessimistic, life is the world’s best preservative.)

The halachic question we will address is the following: When shechting fowl or deer (or any other species of chayah), the halacha requires that we perform a mitzvah called kisuy hadam, which means covering the blood of the shechitah, both below and above, with earth or something similar, such as sawdust. The question is whether it is permitted to dig up earth, under certain circumstances, in order to perform kisuy hadam on Yom Tov.

If melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is prohibited min haTorah, as is the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah, or if the act does not qualify as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah but is a regular melacha activity, it is prohibited to dig up earth in order to perform the mitzvah of kisuy hadam. However, if we rule according to Rabbi Shimon, one would be allowed to dig up earth (which is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah) to perform the mitzvah of kisuy hadam, at least under certain circumstances (Maharsha, Beitzah 8a s.v. Tosafos ve’eino; Machatzis Hashekel 498:25; Nesiv Chayim ad loc.).

At this point, we can return to our opening question:

Pulling Teeth

May I pull teeth on Shabbos?

Let us first analyze whether this is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. According to Tosafos’ opinion, the melacha in the Mishkan this would fall under is gozeiz, and gozeiz was performed only to use the item being shorn. In my experience, a tooth is never pulled in order to use it. Therefore, this is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah and prohibited only miderabbanan according to Rabbi Shimon. However, should the market price on tooth enamel go through the roof, and someone choose to remove his tooth for his huge resale value, pulling the tooth would be prohibited min haTorah.

According to the Ramban, the tooth is being pulled because it is painful, not because I want the tooth itself. If I could get the tooth to disappear, that would be even more helpful, since I would avoid the pain and risk of infection that pulling it entails. Thus, the Ramban also categorizes this as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah.

According to the Baal Hama’or, no benefit is gained from the tooth, and so, just as we explained according to the Ramban, this is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. As mentioned above, should circumstances change such that the removal of the tooth is performed for fnanical benefit, the act would become Torah prohibited also according to the Ramban and the Baal Hama’or.

Thus, all three rishonim we quoted do not consider pulling a tooth on Shabbos to be a Torah violation. Therefore, in a situation where a dentist wants to pull a tooth and the patient is in intense pain, all three of these rishonim would agree that this is permitted, according to Rabbi Shimon, even if the dentist is Jewish.

We also need to deal with the bleeding that will, undoubtedly, result when pulling a tooth. Again, according to Tosafos, this bleeding is not comparable to the reason that this melacha was performed in the Mishkan. According to both the Baal Hama’or and the Ramban, this would also qualify as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah.

Thus, it would seem that according to those rishonim who rule that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is prohibited only miderabbanan, this should be permitted (Mishnah Berurah 316:30; Biur Halacha ad loc.; Nimla Tal, Shocheit #53; however, cf. Magen Avraham 328:3).

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos, in order for it to be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, activities or actions that achieve purpose and accomplishment. The concept of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah bears this out. It is no harder to perform a melacha hatzericha legufah, which is prohibited min haTorah according to all opinions, than to perform a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. Yet, according to Rabbi Shimon, the latter is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction. This is because this action is not considered to provide “purpose,” as explained above.

Shabbos is a day when we refrain from altering the world for our own purposes, and the melacha she’einah tzericha legufah type of activity is not considered our own purpose. The goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation, by refraining from our own creative acts.

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