When May I Ask a Gentile for Help on Shabbos?

Each of the following questions is an actual situation that people have asked me:

Question #1: My car needs repair work and the most convenient time to drop it off at Angelo’s Service Station is Friday afternoon. May I bring Angelo the car then knowing that he is going to repair it on Shabbos?

Question #2: A gala Shabbos sheva brachos is being held at an apartment several flights of stairs below street level, a very common situation in hilly Yerushalayim. The kallah’s elderly grandmother arrived before Shabbos by elevator, intending to return home by using the Shabbos elevator (a subject we will discuss at a different time iy’H). Indeed, the building’s elevator actually has a Shabbos setting, but we discovered on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Grandma get home?

Question #3: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she do this?

Question #4: “If this contract does not arrive at its destination ASAP, I could suffer huge losses. May I mail it as an express mail package on Friday?”

“What should I do if a registered letter arrives on Shabbos?”

Many people are under the mistaken impression that one may ask a non-Jew to do any type of prohibited activity on Shabbos. Unfortunately, this is not true. I have often seen a person ask gentiles to do work on Shabbos that is clearly prohibited. Our Sages prohibited asking a non-Jew to work for us on Shabbos out of concern that this diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 6:1). Chazal considered the gentile to be my agent — thus, if he works for me on Shabbos, it is considered that I worked on Shabbos through a hired agent (Rashi, Shabbos 153a s.v. mai taama).

By the way, the halachos of amira linachri, asking a gentile to perform a prohibited activity, are not restricted to the laws of Shabbos, but apply to all mitzvos of the Torah. Thus, one may not have a gentile muzzle his animal while it works (see Gemara Bava Metzia 90a; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 338:6), ask him to graft fruit trees, nor may one ask a non-Jew to do prohibited work on Chol HaMoed (Gemara Moed Katan 12a).

There are many complicated details governing when I may ask a gentile to do something on Shabbos and when I may not. These are some of the factors that one must consider:

A. Is the gentile my employee or is he an “independent contractor”?

B. What type of benefit do I receive from his work?

C. Did I ask the non-Jew directly or indirectly?

D. Is the work I asked him to perform prohibited min haTorah or only midirabbanan?

E. Why do I want him to do this work?

F. Could I do the work myself, albeit in a different way than the gentile will likely do it?

To show how these details affect a practical case, I will analyze the halachic issues involved in each of our cases mentioned above, starting with our first case – leaving the car over Shabbos at a non-Jewish mechanic. The major issue here is that I did not ask the gentile to do the work on Shabbos – I am not permitted to do this. Instead, I brought him the car and allowed him to decide whether to do the work on Shabbos or not. Is he now my agent if he works on Shabbos, which is prohibited, or is it permitted?

In order to explain the issues involved in this shaylah, we need to introduce a few concepts.

AGENT VERSUS CONTRACTOR

There is a halachic difference whether the gentile is working as my agent (or employee) or whether he is an independent contractor who makes his own decisions. If he is my agent, I may not allow him to do prohibited activity on Shabbos. But if he is an independent contractor, then under certain circumstances I am not responsible if he actually does the work on Shabbos.

When is the gentile considered a contractor? If the non-Jew decides on his own when to do the work and I hired him by the job, he is a contractor. In these cases, I may give him work that he might decide to perform on Shabbos, provided that he could do the work on a different day and that he does the work on his own premises. (Under certain circumstances, the last condition may not apply.)

What are examples of contractors? The mailman, a repairman who repairs items on his own premises, the dry cleaner are all contractors. On the other hand, a regular employee whom I ask to do some work on Shabbos is not a contractor unless I pay him extra for this job.

Thus I may drop off my car at the auto mechanic before Shabbos and leave it over Shabbos, provided I allow him time to do the work when it is not Shabbos, either on Friday afternoon or Motzei Shabbos. Even though I know that the non-Jewish mechanic will not be working Saturday night and will actually do the work on Shabbos, I need not be concerned, since he could choose to do the work after Shabbos.

However, this is permitted only when (1) he does the work on his own premises (2) I pay him for the completed job and (3) he decides whether or not he does the work on Shabbos or not. (It should be noted that some poskim prohibit doing this when the mechanic is closed Motzei Shabbos. Since I know that he is closed Motzei Shabbos, they consider it asking him to do the work on Shabbos, which is prohibited.)

In a similar way, I could bring dry cleaning in on Friday afternoon expecting to pick up the cleaned clothes Saturday night, provided enough time exists to clean the clothes before or after Shabbos.

We will now explore our second question:

An elderly woman cannot ascend the several flights of stairs necessary to get to street level. The building has a Shabbos elevator, but we discover on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Grandma get home? Can we have a non-Jew operate the elevator to get her home?

Before answering this question, I want to share another story with you:

A DARK SIMCHAS TORAH SHABBOS

The following story occurred on a Simchas Torah in Yerushalayim that fell on Shabbos. (Although Simchas Torah outside Eretz Yisroel cannot occur on Shabbos, Shmini Atzeres, which can fall on Shabbos, is observed as Simchas Torah in Eretz Yisroel.) Just as the hakafos were beginning, the power in the shul went out, plunging the entire shul into darkness. The shul’s emergency lights went on, leaving the shul dimly lit — sufficient for people to exit safely and to dance in honor of Simchas Torah, but certainly making it more difficult to observe the usual Simchas Torah celebrations. The Rav of the shul ruled that they could not ask a non-Jew to turn on the lights.

Although if there was any element of danger involved, one could certainly have asked a gentile to turn on the lights, the Rav felt that the situation was not dangerous, and therefore maintained that one may not ask a gentile to turn on the lights.

One of the congregants raised a suggestion that may help illuminate the shul. The same idea may get Grandma home! Before presenting his idea, I need to explain two concepts:

BENEFITING FROM GENTILE ACTIVITY

If a gentile does melacha on Shabbos for his own benefit, a Jew may use the results. For example, if a non-Jew builds a ramp to disembark from a boat on Shabbos, a Jew may now exit the boat via the same ramp since the gentile did no additional work in order to benefit the Jew. Similarly, if a non-Jew kindled a light so that he himself could read, a Jew may now use the light. One may use the light even if the gentile and the Jew know one another (Mishnah Shabbos 122a; Rambam 6:2; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:11).

However, if the gentile gathered grass to feed his animals, the Jew cannot let his animals eat the leftover grass if the two people know one another. This is so that the gentile does not come to do melacha for the sake of the Jew in the future (Gemara Shabbos 122a).

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RAMP AND THE GRASS?

Why are these cases halachically different? Why may the Jew use the light or the ramp, but may not allow his animal to eat the grass? In the first cases, no additional work is necessary for the gentile to provide a ramp or light for the Jew. Once the gentile has built the ramp or kindled the light, any number of people can benefit from them without any additional melacha. However, cutting each blade of grass is a separate melacha activity. Thus, allowing one’s animal to eat this grass might tempt the gentile to cut additional grass for the Jew’s animal, which we must avoid.

So far, we have calculated that if we can figure out how to get the gentile to turn on the light for his own benefit, one may use the light. Thus, we might be able to get lights in the shul for Shabbos, or a gentile to ride the elevator up to the main floor, and hopefully we can get Grandma onto the elevator at the same time. However, how does one get the gentile to turn on the light or the elevator for his own benefit when one may not ask him to do any work on Shabbos?

HINTING

May I hint to a gentile that I would like him to perform a prohibited activity on Shabbos? The poskim dispute this issue. Some rule that this is prohibited (Tur Orach Chayim 307), whereas others permit it (Bach, Orach Chayim 307 s.v. uma shekasav rabbeinu). Thus according to the second opinion one may ask a gentile on Shabbos, “Why didn’t you accompany Grandma on the elevator last Shabbos?” even though he clearly understands that you are asking him to take the elevator with her today. According to the first opinion, one may not do this, nor may one ask a gentile to clean up something in a dark room, since to do so means that he must turn on the light.

However, the majority of poskim hold a compromise position, contending that although one may not hint to a gentile on Shabbos, one may hint to him on a weekday (Smag). Thus one may tell him on Friday, “Why didn’t you do this last Shabbos,” but one may not tell him this on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch 307:2; Rama 307:22). According to this last ruling, one could tell the gentile during the week, “Why did you leave Grandma downstairs without taking her up in the elevator,” but one could not mention this to him on Shabbos.

PERMITTED HINTING VERSUS PROHIBITED HINTING

However, the poskim rule that one may tell a non-Jewish mailman on Shabbos, “I cannot read this letter until it is opened.” What is the difference between the two types of hinting?

The difference is that the forbidden type of hinting implies either a command or a rebuke, whereas the permitted type does not (Magen Avraham 307:31). Telling a gentile to clean something up in a dark room on Shabbos is in essence commanding him to perform a prohibited activity — turning on the light. Similarly, when you rebuke him for not doing something last Shabbos, you are basically commanding him to do it the next Shabbos. However, one may make a statement of fact that is neither a command nor a rebuke. Therefore telling the gentile, “I cannot read this letter as long as it is not opened” does not command him to do anything, and for this reason it is permitted.

However, if the gentile then asks me, “Would you like me to open the letter for you?” I may not answer him “yes,” since this is itself a command. (It is as if you said, “Yes, I would like you to open the letter for me.”) I may tell him, “That’s not a bad idea,” or “I have no objections to your opening the letter” which again does not directly command him. I may even say, “I am not permitted to ask you to open it on Shabbos”.

How does this discussion affect our dark Simchas Torah or getting Grandma home?

The congregant suggested the following: One could create a situation whereby turning on the light is beneficial for the gentile, and then hint to him that if he wants to, he could benefit by turning the light on. One may do this because the non-Jew is turning on the light for his own use, and the Jew did not ask him directly to turn on the light. Thus, if you placed a bottle of whiskey or a gift of chocolate in the shul, and then notified the gentile that the bottle or chocolate is waiting for him there, you can show him how to turn on the lights so that he can find his present. This is permitted because the gentile is turning on the lights for his own benefit, and you did not ask him, nor even hint to him that you want him to turn on the lights. You simply notified him that if he wants to put on the lights, he could find himself a very nice present.

The same solution may help Grandma return home. Someone invited a non-Jew to the sheva brachos, and then told him that a present awaited him in the building’s entrance foyer. Does it bother him if Grandma shares the elevator with him while he goes to retrieve his present?

A word of caution: If one uses this approach, one must be careful that the gentile is indeed doing the melacha for his own purposes, such as to get the present as mentioned above. However, one may not ask the non-Jew to accompany you on a tour of the dark shul, and then he turns on the light to see his way. This is prohibited because the gentile is only interested in the light in order to accompany you on the walk, but not because he has any gain himself (see Shulchan Aruch 276:3).

And now on to Question #3: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. Is this permitted? (See Mishnah Berurah 308:154.)

Recently, I was asked the following shaylah: Someone moved to a community where the Rav permits people to have a non-Jew carry the baby on Shabbos by arranging remizah (hinting) from before Shabbos. This means that one would tell a gentile before Shabbos, “I would like to go to shul on Shabbos, but I cannot leave the baby behind.” The non-Jew then responds, “What time would you like me to arrive at the house?” or “What time would you like to leave the house?” again neither party ever stating that you have asked the gentile what to do.

Personally, I have strong reservations about using this suggestion, since eventually one will end up commanding the non-Jew directly, such as, “Do you need me to take the baby’s blanket along?”- If you answer “Yes,” then you have commanded the gentile in violation of the halacha.

EXPRESS MAIL

At this point, we can begin to discuss the first part of shaylah #4: May I mail express mail on Friday?

At first glance, it would seem that one may not send an express mail package on Friday, since you are asking the gentile to transport and deliver the package on Shabbos. This is dissimilar from the case of bringing the car to the auto mechanic or clothes to the dry cleaner on Friday because in our case you are requesting him to do the job as quickly as possible. Thus, you are insisting that he do the job on Shabbos, which a Jew may not do.

A similar shaylah to our express mail case was asked in Amsterdam hundreds of years ago from Rav Yaakov Emden. The questioner wanted to ship precious stones by asking a non-Jewish employee to deliver them to the post office on Shabbos, reasoning that his gentile agent was carrying items within an eruv on Shabbos and therefore not doing any prohibited activity. Rav Yaakov Emden prohibited this, pointing out that the gentile would have to fill out paperwork at the post office to send off this shipment, and this would be considered having an agent work for me on Shabbos (Shaylas Yaavetz 2:139).

Although based on the above analysis it would seem that one may not send out express mail on Friday, there is a different reason why one may, but only under extenuating circumstances, as I will explain.

I may not ask a gentile on Shabbos to hire other non-Jewish workers (Gemara Shabbos 150a; Shulchan Aruch 307:2). Some poskim contend that although I may not ask a non-Jew to hire workers, which is a prohibited activity, I may ask him to ask another non-Jew to do something that is prohibited on Shabbos. The rationale behind this heter, usually called amira li’amira, is that asking one non-Jew to ask another is permitted because I am only asking a non-Jew to talk, which is not considered an activity (Shu’t Chavos Ya’ir #46, 49, 53). Other poskim contend that just as one may not ask a gentile to hire workers, which is just talk, I cannot ask him to do any other activity (Avodas HaGershuni). Mishnah Berurah (307:24) rules that one may be lenient in a case of major financial loss, thus under very extenuating circumstances one could be lenient.

This dispute is interesting historically because the two Seventeenth Century Torah giants involved in this dispute corresponded with one another. The Chavos Ya’ir permitted asking a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew to work on Shabbos, whereas the Avodas HaGershuni responded to him that this is forbidden. One can actually trace the give-and-take of their halachic debate on the issue, together with their lines of reasoning and proofs, simply by reading the correspondence published in their responsa. It is almost as if we are able to sit in their respective Batei Medrash and listen in to the two of them giving shiur on the subject!

The dispute has many ramifications, one of which is our case of express mail, since you place an order with one person, but a different gentile does the actual traveling and delivering. Thus, we have a case of amira li’amira, which is permitted according to the Chavos Yair. There is also another reason to be lenient: Since one is arranging the Express Mail delivery before Shabbos, the situation is indeed a bit more lenient than the above-mentioned dispute between the Chavos Yair and the Avodas HaGershuni. Indeed, the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #60) rules a compromise position between the two, permitting telling the non-Jew before Shabbos to ask the other non-Jew on Shabbos. Biyur Halacha (307:2) disagrees, quoting Rashba. Therefore, one should not rely on this ruling unless the situation is extenuating.

The story behind the Chasam Sofer’s responsum on this issue is worth noting. During the Napoleonic Wars, a battle took place in Pressburg (today known as Bratislava), where the Chasam Sofer was Rav, in which much of the Jewish area of town went up in flames. It was very important to rebuild the neighborhood before winter set in, and there was concern that the non-Jewish contractors would not construct the houses in a timely fashion if they were not allowed to work on the Jewish houses on Shabbos. One of the reasons that the Chasam Sofer ruled that they could allow the gentile contractors to work on Shabbos was that the Jews hired a gentile contractor, who in turn instructed his employees when to work. Thus it was a case of amira li’amira, which the Chasam Sofer permitted if the contractor received his instructions before Shabbos.

SHABBOS PICK-UP

If I hired a gentile to make a delivery for me, he may not pick up the item from my house on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:4). Thus, if I contract with a delivery service such as UPS, they must pick up the item before Shabbos.

What should I do if a registered letter arrives on Shabbos?

Now we should be prepared to answer this last question. I may not ask the gentile delivery person to sign for me, even by hinting to him. However, I may tell him, “I cannot sign for this today because it is my Sabbath.” If he asks me, “Would you like me to sign for the delivery?” I may not tell him, “Yes.” However I may answer him, “It is fine with me if you would like to” or “I may not ask someone else to do this on my Sabbath” or “I do not mind receiving the delivery, but I may not sign for it.”

According to the Rambam, the reason that Chazal prohibited one to ask a gentile to do work on Shabbos is so that we do not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. One who refrains from having even a non-Jew work shows even deeper testimony to his conviction that Hashem created the world.

Note: For more on this topic, see “When May I Ask a Gentile for Help on Shabbos? Part II.”

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Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

Ron Goldstein, who is seeking to find his way into observant Judaism, is having a casual conversation with Yosel Schwartz, an Orthodox accountant who often invites him over often for Shabbos. As usual, Ron is peppering Yosel with questions:

“Recently, I began praying daily, and I have even begun to attend synagogue occasionally. I have many questions regarding both the prayers and the practices I see there.”

Of course, Yosel is more than happy to answer Ron’s questions.

“I would really appreciate it if you could provide me with background to some of the prayers. I see that there is a lot of structure and that various sections of the prayer are very dissimilar from one another. Some parts are consecutive blessings, others include extensive Biblical passages; some are praises, others are straightforward supplications. I have been told that the two most important parts of the morning and evening prayers are the Shma and the Shemoneh Esrei, and I have been reciting these parts for a few months now. But at this point I would like to understand some more about some of the other parts of our prayer. Could you help me?”

“Certainly; where would you like to start?”

“I am really curious to know more about the Psalms we read towards the beginning of the prayers. Psalms are really inspiring. But I also know that the Book of Psalms is fairly large. Why do we always recite the same ones every day; why not just read consecutive passages each day as an introduction to the prayer? This would familiarize people with the whole beautiful book.”

It is interesting that Ron noticed the beauty of the Psalms David Hamelech bequeathed to the Jewish people. Indeed, it seems that David Hamelech was aware of the tremendous responsibility Hashem placed upon him to provide a link between Man and Hashem. This is evidenced in the following verse: “For an eternal covenant He placed in me” (Shmuel II 23:5). Although most commentaries explaing that this verse refers to the eternity of his royal dynasty, which will soon return with Moshiach, it certainly also alludes to David’s unique role as the Psalmist of mankind.

Tehillim Each and Every Day, makes Certain we do not Stray

Yosel points out to Ron that the Psalms have indeed been organized into daily readings that enable one to complete them every week or month. Ron sounds interested in making this a regular practice, certainly a laudatory observance. Yosel points out that the purpose in reciting parts of Tehillim during davening is not to create familiarity with the entire book, but something else altogether. In Yosel’s own words:

“To answer your question, I need to provide you with some background to this part of the prayer, which is called Pesukei Dezimra, Verses of Song. Two Talmudic references provide the earliest basis for this part of our daily prayer.  One source teaches that reciting Psalm 145 every day guarantees one a share in olam haba, the World to Come (Berachos 4b).” (Yosel is aware that an alternate reading [girsa] of this Gemaraattributes the reward to someone who recites this psalm three times every day. This is why we recite Ashrei, which includes this Chapter of Tehillim, three times a day, twice in Shacharis and once during Mincha.Yosel did not want to sidetrack the conversation with this information.)

Hashem Provides for All, even those without Wherewithal.

“What is unique about this Psalm that its recital merits such a special reward?” Ron inquired.

“The Gemara explains that this Psalm includes the verse beginning with the words Posayach es yodecha, which praises G-d who opens His hands to provide for all creatures. One must make sure to recite this verse with much focus (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), as we thereby internalize the fact that Hashem supervises over all his creatures and provides all their needs.

“In addition, the alphabetical acrostic of this Psalm demonstrates that King David intended that it be easily memorized and utilized by all of mankind (Rav Hirsch, Tehillim 25:1).

“The verses of this chapter that follow Posayach es yodecha also include many basic tenets of Judaism. They note that Hashem’s deeds are also justified; and that He is close to all who seek him truthfully, fulfills their desires, and protects them. It is critical to recite these passages with full focus on their significance. One who recites the verse Posayach es yodecha without thinking about its meaning is required to read it again, since he has missed the message of the passage. Some authorities conclude that if he completed the Psalm, he should repeat from the words Posayach es yodecha to the end of the Psalm (Mishnah Berurah 51:16).”

Begin the Day with G-d’s Praise, so that we Merit the Sun’s Rays

Ron replied: “This is really a nice, meaningful passage, and it certainly sets the tone for devotion and interacting with G-d, which is one of the beauties of Judaism. However, according to my references, this is only one Psalm among several others that we read.”

Yosel continues his explanation: “True. In another Talmudic passage, the great scholar, Rabbi Yosi, mentions his yearning to receive the special reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b). Also, reciting these praises with the proper awareness guarantees that our subsequent prayer will be accepted (Abudraham).

“The early authorites dispute how many Psalms Rabbi Yosi included in his Pesukei Dezimra. While Rashi mentions only Psalm 148 and Psalm 150 (presumably in addition to 145), the Rambam includes all of the last six Psalms of Tehillim as the kernel of Pesukei Dezimra. Accepted halachah follows the Rambam (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), and therefore we recite all six Psalms, but in extenuating circumstances we follow Rashi’s opinion. For example, someone with insufficient time to recite the entire Pesukei Dezimra with the tremendous focus it deserves and still be ready to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation may omit the three extra Psalms that the Rambam includes and rely on Rashi’s opinion. We actually rule that one may delete even more sections of Pesukei Dezimra to enable one to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation.”

Together we shall Pray, and then look Forward to a Wonderful Day!

“Why is it so important to begin the prayer together with everyone else?”

“Unfortunately but realistically, we sometimes do not focus when we recite our prayers. In reality, prayers recited without proper thought should accomplish nothing and may even be harmful. Imagine someone who has the opportunity for an audience with a human king and arrives late, out of breath, and distracted. If his conversation is unfocused, he will probably be thrown into a dungeon for his disrespect! How much more so when talking to the King of kings!

“When our prayers fall short of what they should be, we deserve to have them rejected. There is one consolation, however. When a community prays together, G-d always accepts their prayers (Gemara Berachos 8a).”

Concentrate on Ashrei, and we will Focus while we Pray

“I now understand why Ashrei is an important prayer,” said Ron, “But I see in my Siddur that besides Psalm 145, that the Ashrei prayer also includes three other verses from Psalms, two before Psalm 145 and one after.”

“I see you’ve been paying a lot of attention to the prayers.”

“The Siddur I use notes the Biblical source of every prayer, so it does not really involve a lot of paying attention. Praying the way you are describing does require a lot of concentration. But I am eager to try. After all, for many years G-d meant little in my life – now that I understand how important He is to me, I am trying to pray daily with meaning. I truly enjoy these six Psalms because each one emphasizes a different aspect of G-d’s magnamity. But could you explain why we begin with the verse Ashrei, which is ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere in the book?”

“The Halachah recommends spending some time in quiet meditation prior to praying (Berachos 30b). This makes it easier to focus on the essence of prayer and what we are trying to accomplish.The source cited for this law is the verse Ashrei, usually translated as ‘Happy is he who dwells in Your house; he will continually be able to praise You.’ I would note that Rabbi Hirsch, a great Nineteenth Century scholar, explains the word Ashrei a bit differently. According to his explanation, the verse means: ‘He who dwells in Your house is constantly striving forward in his life; providing his life with more meaning.’ Either interpretation emphasizes the importance of not racing into our prayer, but spending time meditating over the smallness of man and the greatness of G-d before we approach Him with our daily requests.

Pesukei Dezimra Every Day and one’s Concerns will go away.

“My own experience is that involving oneself in Pesukei Dezimra not only helps one daven the entire tefilah on a completely different level, but also rouses one’s sense of bitachon. In David Hamelech’s own words “The G-d of Yisroel told me… the righteous will rule over man, he will prevail through his fear of Hashem” (Shmuel II 23:3).

“In modern Hebrew, bitachon means security or defense; and bituach means insurance. Both of these uses cloud the issue:

Yisrael Betach BaHashem, the Jewish people can trust only in Hashem. Only through arousing our sense of Hashem’s power and providence can we possibly find any comfort. In the words of the Chovos HaLevavos, ‘He who does not trust in Hashem, places his trust in something else.’”

“I certainly identify with this, perhaps more so, since I am so familiar with the way people live ‘out there.’ I find these Psalms extremely powerful.”

Baruch She’amar – A Song of Desire

Ron is ready with his next question: “I notice that while the Pesukei Dezimra contains only Biblical quotes, my Siddur notes no Biblical quotes in the introductory passage.”

“Because these passages are so important and comprise their own special mitzvah of praising G-d, we introduce and conclude with special blessings, just as we recite blessings before and after eating, and before performing mitzvos. The introductory prayer, which begins with the words Baruch She’amar, begins by blessing G-d ‘who said and made,’ a quality unique to Hashem. He both says and performs, whereas all else in the world either orders or acts (Avudraham). Baruch She’amar includes hints to all of Creation by alluding to the Ten Statements with which Hashem made the world. To quote the Tur (Orach Chayim 51): ‘One must recite Baruch She’amar with song and sweetness because it is a beautiful and desirous song.

The concluding blessing of Pesukei Dezimra begins with the word Yishtabach. In order to avoid any interruption between these berachos, one may not interrupt from the time one recites Baruch She’amar until the end of davening (Shulchan Aruch 51:4). The Medrash reports that when the verse speaks of someone ‘who is afraid because he has sinned’ it refers to a person who spoke during Pesukei Dezimra.”

Singing David’s Song will keep us from Steering Wrong

Ron notes that while Baruch She’amar states that we use the songs of David, Your servant, to praise Hashem, not all the verses in Pesukei Dezimra come from Psalms.

“Although a few passages in Pesukei Dezimra are from other authors, the vast majority were written by King David. Even the two sections taken from Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) are actually quotes of King David that appear in those books.

“Among the notable exceptions is the very end of Pesukei Dezimra where we recite Az Yashir, the Song that the Jewish people sang after miraculously crossing the Red Sea. This epic is considered the song of praise of the Jewish people and therefore merits its special place in the daily Pesukei Dezimra. It is singled out as such a special praise, that halacha requires one to sing  it daily as if one personally  experienced this miraculous manifestation of G-d’s presence.

“Notwithstanding all its wondrous virtues, there is still somehalachic controversy whether it should be recited as part of Pesukei Dezimra or not.”

“How so?”

“The Rambam, perhaps the greatest scholar of the last thousand years, mentions the recital of Az Yashir after Yishtabach, not before. Apparently, since King David did not author Az Yashir, the Rambam feels that it should not be included between the two blessings; only passages that are authored by King David should be included. I am personally unaware of any community that currently follows this practice.”

Hodu – Before Baruch She’amar or After?

Ron is ready with his next question: “I have noticed that some congregations begin Pesukei Dezimra with Baruch She’amar, while others begin with a different passage. What is the rationale behind these two different approaches?”

“King David taught this song to be sung on the day that Aron, which held the Ten Commandments, was brought to the City of David, in the city of Jerusalem (Divrei Hayamim I 16). Later they were sung to accompany the daily offerings in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, until the Beis Hamikdash was built (Seder Olam, Chapter 14). Thus, they are praises that are directly associated with the offerings of the Jewish people and at the same time they are beautiful praises that reflect on the early history of the Jewish nation.

The question is whether we should recite them as part of the regular Pesukei Dezimra, albeit it placing them closer to the part of the prayer when we discuss the offerings, or whether they are said as a sequel to korbanos and prior to Pesukei Dezimra. Ashkenazic practice follows the first approach and Sefardic the latter – two old customs, both cited by early authoritative sources (Tur).”

Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

“Could you sum up in a few words what we have learned today?”

“Rather than my words, I will cite a great early scholar, the Ramban: ‘All that Hashem desires from this world are that man should thank Him for creating him, focus on His praise when he prays, and that the community pray together with concentration: Mankind should gather together and thank the Lord who created them, broadcasting: We are your creations!’” (Ramban, Shemos 13:16).

To this Ron replied : “You just mentioned that the community should recite the praises together. In my visits to different synagogues, I have noticed that in the Sefardic community the entire congregation recites these prayers in unison. In many other synagogues, someone begins and ends each passage aloud so that everyone can read from the same place. It seems from your description that this is the proper way one should recite these prayers.

“However, in some shuls that I frequent the prayers seem far more chaotic. Although these shuls are, thank G-d, very crowded and well attended, people arrive at different times and each person starts praying by himself. No one leads the services until after Pesukei Dezimra is complete, and they are certainly not said in unison. I must admit that I do not find this part of the services very attractive. It certainly does not fit the beautiful description you just gave me.”

Yosel shifted uncomfortably, realizing that Ron is absolutely correct. “It is embarrassing to admit that we are not doing what we should be,” he began. “Your criticism is extremely well founded. Would you be willing to come with me and speak to the Rabbi of our congregation about the problem? I admit that the problem has bothered me for a while, but I have not had the gumption to do anything about it. Perhaps you can help me?”

Ron realized that he had turned the tables. He had come as an outsider sharing something that bothered him. He had expected to receive an answer that he would not foresee; similar to Yosel’s other brilliant answers. He did not expect to be the person Yosel would appeal to for help in what appeared to be some type of crusade. But Yosel’s face indicated that he was sincere in his request. Not knowing the rabbi, Ron was uncertain what to expect, but at the meeting hefound the rabbi more than accomodating.

“I have wanted to introduce this in the shul for a long time,” the rabbi said after listening to their complaint. “The old minhag in all communities always included someone leading the services from the very beginning of Berachos. Why and when this practice changed is not for our discussion now, but I would like your help in changing the practice in our shul.”

In Conclusion, the Congregation’s Resolution

Ron became a very active member of the shul, although his attire initially looked fairly dissimilar from most other members. His input as an “outsider” was happily accepted. And as Ron morphed into Reuvein and learned how to use the Hebrew Siddur fluently, his unflagging enthusiasm for Pesukei Dezimra spurred major change not only in himself and in his good friend Yosel, but also to Congregation Bnei Torah. Ultimately, his enthusiasm and initiative spiritually permeated the entire world.

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What Makes Meat Kosher?

 

“I know that I only eat from certain hechsherim. However, my sister-in-law, who is a very frum person, was told by her Rav that she can use a certain hechsher that I was told not to use. Don’t all the rabbonim follow the same Shulchan Aruch?”

“I have been told that it isn’t possible that there could be such a high percentage of glatt kosher to accommodate everyone purchasing it, and that the term is used incorrectly. Is this true?”

“Is there such a thing as non-glatt kosher veal?”

These are common questions, and indeed, explaining the distinctions between different kashrus standards could fill volumes. This article will be devoted exclusively to issues of kosher meat. By the time we finish this reading this article hopefully the answers to the above questions will be clarified.

THE BASICS OF KOSHER MEAT

There are several mitzvos involved in the preparation of kosher meat and poultry. Only certain species may be eaten, and these must be slaughtered in the halachically-approved way, shechitah. Even then, the animal or bird may still have defects that render it non-kosher. Finally, there are non-kosher parts that must be removed, specifically the gid hanasheh (the sciatic nerve), non-kosher fats called “cheilev,” and the non-kosher blood. After all these have been removed, the meat is finally ready to be prepared for the Jewish table.

In other articles, I discussed some of the contemporary issues concerning kosher animal, bird, and fish species. This article will discuss some halachic issues that occur after the shechitah.

THE BEDIKAH

Immediately following the slaughtering, the shochet (ritual slaughterer; plural, shochtim) checks visually to verify that he performed the shechitah correctly. This is a vitally important step – if this inspection is not performed, the animal or bird cannot be eaten.

Next, the animal or bird must be examined to ensure that it is not a treifah. Although in common usage the word “treif” means anything non-kosher for any reason whatsoever, technically the word refers to an animal with a physical defect that renders it non-kosher. The word treif literally means “torn,” and indeed the most common cause of a treifah is tearing or damage to the internal organs.

Organs where treifos are infrequent do not require inspection. In these instances, one may rely on the principle of “rov”- since the overwhelming majority is kosher, one need not check for treifos. However, an organ that has a high percentage of treifos must be checked to ensure that it is kosher. Thus, established halachic practice of over 1000 years is to check an animal’s lungs because of their high rate of treifos.

How high a percentage of treifos is needed to require examination? A dispute over this issue developed in the early nineteenth century between two great poskim, Rav Efrayim Zalman Margolies, the Rav of Brody (Shu”t Beis Efrayim, Yoreh Deah #6) and Rav Yaakov, the Rav of Karlin (Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov, Yoreh Deah #16 & 17). The Beis Efrayim contended that it is not necessary to check for a treifah if we do not find that Chazal and early poskim required it, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov contended that if a certain treifah occurs in ten per cent of animals one is required to check every animal for this treifah. (The halachic source for this figure of ten per cent is beyond the scope of this article.)

Reliable hechsherim tend to follow the Mishkenos Yaakov’s ruling and check for treifos that appear frequently. Thus, it is standard to check the stomachs and intestines of chickens and the lungs of turkeys for irregularities, and reliable hechsherim usually check the second stomach of cattle (the reticulum, called the beis hakosos in Hebrew) for damage that results from swallowed nails.

Geography can sometimes be a factor. For example, treifos are not found commonly in the lungs of chickens raised in North America, and therefore the hechsherim there do not check the lungs. On the other hand, it is far more common to find these problems in chickens raised in Israel. Thus, many poskim require chicken lungs in Israel to be checked for treifos. (I have heard different theories why there is a greater rate of treifos in the lungs of Israeli chickens, including that the heat and desert climate damage the lungs or that there are exposure to certain viruses, but the truth is that no one really knows.)

GLATT KOSHER

Before explaining the concept called glatt kosher, we must first discuss adhesions, a type of lesion that develops on the lungs of animals. An animal or bird with a tear in its lung is not kosher and this is one of the many types of treifah.

The Gemara rules that an animal with an adhesion (sircha) on its lung is also non-kosher (Chullin 46b), because this demonstrates that the lung once had a tear that was subsequently covered by the adhesion (Rashi ad loc.). A second reason given is that the adhesion would have eventually torn off and damaged the lung (Tosafos). Even though the animal was slaughtered before the adhesion tore off, the animal is considered non-kosher since it ultimately would have died as a result of the adhesion.

If the adhesion is between two adjacent sections of the lung, the animal is kosher, because the lung protects the adhesion from tearing.

Did the Gemara prohibit all adhesions or only ones that are difficult to remove? Is there a concern that even a thin adhesion might be covering a tear in the lung or will ultimately cause the lung to tear?

This halacha question is disputed by the Rishonim. The Rosh (Chullin 3:14), who was the foremost posek in Germany (Ashkenaz) in the Thirteenth Century, ruled that any sircha that is removed easily without damaging the lung is kosher. These easy-to-remove adhesions are called “ririn.” Based on his ruling, the custom amongst Ashkenazic Jewry was that a shochet who found a sircha on a lung would attempt to remove the sircha. If it could be removed without damaging the lung, the shochet declared the animal kosher. If the lung was completely clear of any adhesions, even ririn, the animal was declared “Glatt Kosher.” “Glatt” means “smooth” in Yiddish – in other words, the lung was smooth and had no adhesions at all.

The Rashba (Shu”t #304), who was the foremost posek in Spain (Sfarad) at the time, disagreed with Rosh, declaring that it is forbidden to remove adhesions, and that an animal with any adhesion is non-kosher even if the adhesion can be easily removed. He also declared that any shochet who removes sirchos in order to declare the animal kosher should be removed from his position if he has been warned to cease this practice and continues to do so.

(It is an interesting historical note that when the Rosh fled the persecutions in Germany for Spain, he became a houseguest of the Rashba in Barcelona. Eventually, the community of Toledo engaged the Rosh as its rav upon the recommendation of the Rashba.)

Shulchan Aruch follows the ruling of Rashba and declares that a shochet who removes sirchos is considered to have fed treif meat to Jews (Yoreh Deah 39:10). The Rama, however, points out that the custom in Ashkenaz was to permit meat from animals with easy-to-remove sirchos. The Rama explains that although the basis for the practice is tenuous, one should not rebuke those who are lenient. Clearly, the Rama himself is not advocating being lenient in this matter and preferred that people be strict. Furthermore, the Rama is only lenient when one knows that the bodek, the person checking the lung, is a G-d-fearing person who will be careful to remove the sircha gently (Yoreh Deah 39:13). Moreover even among Ashkenazic poskim, many were hesitant to be lenient.

Because of all this, the Gr”a ruled that one should not use non-glatt meat, that is meat from animals that have thin adhesions on the lungs.

Since Sefardim follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch over the Rama, they are not permitted to use non-glatt meat. Ashkenazim are permitted to follow the Rama and use non-glatt kosher meat, although it is preferable to be strict.

There is an additional reason to be strict. Based on a pasuk in Yechezkel (4:14), the Gemara concludes that a meticulous person does not eat meat that had a shaylah, even if it was paskened to be permitted (Chullin 44b). Because of this Gemara, hechsherim that cater to Bnei Torah attempt to certify only products that have no shaylos whatsoever. These hechsherim are usually referred to as “Mehadrin,” although it is important to note that there is no universal mehadrin standard. I have found hechsherim that refer to themselves as “mehadrin” or as “heimishe” that are indeed excellent, but I have also found hechsherim purporting to be “mehadrin” or “heimishe” whose standards are at best mediocre.

It should be noted that the lenience of removing adhesions from the lungs applies only to mature beef cattle. On birds and other animals, any lung that has a problematic adhesion would automatically be non-kosher. Thus, any poultry, veal and lamb that is kosher is by definition glatt kosher, and using the word “glatt” is superfluous. However, since consumers often assume that “glatt” means a higher standard of kosher, it is not uncommon to find these items advertised as “glatt kosher.” I have even seen dairy or pareve products sold as “glatt kosher,” which is a totally meaningless usage of the expression.

DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS OF GLATT

The Beis Dovid, a commonly used halacha work on the laws of shechitah, contends that adhesions that can be removed easily are not only considered kosher, but even qualify as glatt kosher (Section 2 pg. 72, #8:5, quoting Shu”t Daas HaZevach). Many hechsherim follow this opinion and consider such meat to be glatt kosher. However, other poskim dispute his conclusions and feel that this meat should not be used by Sefardim who are halachically required to use only glatt meat. Those who are strict in this shaylah often refer to their hechsher as “Glatt Beis Yosef.” However, this term (Glatt Beis Yosef) also has no precise definition. An experienced shochet/rav hamachshir once told me that it probably only means that in the opinion of the hechsher, the Beis Yosef himself would prefer eating this meat than some other kosher meat on the market.

Thus, two hechsherim may be called “glatt” and may not be using the same definition of the word.

KOSHER VEAL

As mentioned above, the heter of non-Glatt meat only exists in reference to mature beef cattle, but that lambs, kids, and young calves that have any sircha should be treated as non-kosher (see Rama Yoreh Deah 39:13). The logic behind this is that if a young calf already exhibits some signs of an adhesion, it is probably a kashrus problem and the animal should be considered treif. Thus, we would conclude from this that all veal should be either glatt or treif.

However, at this point the modern meat industry has created a new problem by attempting to convince the consumer that quality veal should be very light-colored, almost white. Since meat is naturally red and not white, this is accomplished by raising calves in drastically unnatural circumstances such as not feeding them a normal diet, not providing them with any iron in their diet, and not allowing them to exercise. This approach decreases the hemoglobin in the blood which gives the meat its red color. The result is that “white veal” or the misnomer “nature calves” often have a notorious high rate of treifos in the lungs as a result of the conditions in which they were raised. (It is known in the industry that if the grower improves the ventilation and sanitary conditions of his pens, the rate of kosher product increases.) For this reason, non-scrupulous meatpackers have plenty of temptation to bend the rules that define the kashrus of veal. (One shochet recently told me that he once shechted 114 “nature calves” that had been raised in non-sanitary conditions and had only one kosher!)

I was once scheduled to visit a veal shechitah to see whether it met the standards for the Vaad HaKashrus I headed at the time. Before visiting the plant, I called the rav giving the hechsher to find out his standard for accepting kosher veal. When I asked him if he “takes sirchos” on veal, he replied, “Of course we do, otherwise we would never have enough marked kosher!”

What an astonishing reply! At least he saved me a long trip. Yet, there are hechsherim that allow purchase of “kosher” veal from shechitos like this!

(I have heard very complicated halachic reasons to permit this standard. Suffice it to say that I consider the reasons unacceptable.)

REMOVING BLOOD

As mentioned above, before meat is ready for the pot, it must have several items removed. The non-kosher blood is removed from the meat either by broiling or through soaking and salting. Liver must be kashered by broiling. Except for certain extenuating circumstances, when kashering meat by salting it must be soaked for a half-hour and salted for an hour, with the salt covering all sides of the meat thoroughly. I have personally witnessed meat kashered inadequately in commercial facilities, usually because the workers are not given enough time or proper facilities to do the job correctly. However, any responsible hechsher will make certain that this does not happen.

In earlier times meat and liver were always kashered at home. Today, most housewives assume that the meat they purchase is already kashered. Thus, they often do not know how to kasher meat themselves, although concerned Jewish homemakers would do well to learn how to kasher meat and liver properly.

SEVENTY-TWO HOURS

Over a thousand years ago, the Gaonim established a new requirement in the processing of kosher meat. They ruled that if the meat was not soaked within seventy-two hours of its slaughter, the blood could no longer be removed by the soaking and salting method but only by broiling. Thus, it is paramount to kasher meat, or at least to soak it, within a few days of the shechitah. Many poskim are lenient to permit meat if it was soaked within the seventy-two hours, but different hechsherim have very different definitions as to what is considered properly “soaked.” In general, a mehadrin hechsher will not permit meat to be used unless it has been kashered within seventy-two hours of the shechitah, whereas a non-mehadrin hechsher will permit it. Similarly, a mehadrin hechsher will not allow the use of meat that has been frozen before it was kashered, whereas non-mehadrin hechsherim will allow the kashering of meat that was frozen for more than seventy-two hours.

TRABERING

The Torah prohibited certain fats, called cheilev, which are predominantly attached to the stomachs and the kidneys in the hindquarter. These non-kosher fats and the gid hanasheh are cut out of the meat in a process called “trabering.” This Yiddish word’s origin derives from the Aramaic word for non-kosher fat, tarba, and thus means, removing non-kosher fat. (The Hebrew word for the process is “nikur,” excising.)

Removing the gid hanasheh and forbidden fats from the hindquarters is an extremely arduous process that requires much skill and patience. Since most of the forbidden fats and the entire gid hanasheh and all its tributaries are in the hindquarters, the custom in many places is to use only meat from the forequarters, thus considerably simplifying the trabering process.

OTHER DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HECHSHERIM

There are also subtle distinctions between hechsherim, which might cause one Rav to approve a shechitah and make another Rav uncomfortable. When is a shechitah line considered operating too quickly for the shochtim and bodkim to do their jobs properly? When is a plant considered understaffed? Are the tags that identify the meat as kosher kept under proper supervision? Are the shochtim yirei shamayim (G-d fearing)?

Thus, it could indeed happen that one rav considers a shechitah acceptable and another rav feels that it is not. The differences may be based on the interpretation of halacha, or they may result from a rav’s inclination as to how a plant should be run.

Based on the above information we can better understand many aspects of the preparation of kosher meat and why it is important to use only meat that has a proper hechsher. We can also gain a greater appreciation as to how hard rabbonim and shochtim work to maintain a high kashrus standard.

We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

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Noahide Halacha 101

Today, I will be meeting someone who is extremely concerned and knowledgeable about halacha, yet doesn’t even keep a kosher home. Neither has he ever observed Shabbos. On the other hand, he is meticulous to observe every detail of Choshen Mishpat.

Who is this individual?

Allow me to introduce you to John Adams who is a practicing Noahide, or, as he prefers to call himself, an Adamite.

Adams asserts that he descends from the two famous presidents, a claim that I have never verified and have no reason to question. Raised in New England and a graduate of Harvard Law School, John rejected the tenets of the major Western religions but retained a very strong sense of G-d’s presence and the difference between right and wrong. Study and introspection led him to believe that G-d probably had detailed instructions for mankind, and sincere questioning led him to discover that of the Western religions, only Judaism does not claim a monopoly on heaven. A non-Jew who observes the Seven Laws taught to Noah and believes that G-d commanded them at Har Sinai has an excellent place reserved for him in olam haba.

John began the practice of these laws. John is quick to point out that, with only one exception, these laws were all commanded originally to Adam. Since John is proud of his family name and lineage, he likes calling himself an Adamite.

What are the basics of Noahide practice?

We all know that a gentile is required to observe seven mitzvos, six of them prohibitions, to avoid: idolatry, incest, murder, blasphemy, theft, and eiver min hachai (which we will soon discuss), and the seventh, the mitzvah of having dinim, whose nature is controversial. The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah #416) and others note that these seven mitzvos are actually categories, and a non-Jew is really required to observe several dozen mitzvos.

Kosher, Noah style

I asked John if eating meat presents any religious problems for him.

“Well, you know that Noah was prohibited from eating meat or an organ that was severed before the animal died, a prohibition you call eiver min hachai,” said John, obviously proud that he could pronounce the expression correctly. “So sometimes I come across meat that I may not eat. The following question once came up: Moslem slaughter, called halal, involves killing the animal in a way that many of its internal organs are technically severed from the animal before it is dead. Because of this, we are very careful where we purchase our organ meats.”

May a Noahide Eat Out?

“This problem went even further,” John continued. “Could we eat in a restaurant where forbidden meats may have contaminated their equipment?”

I admit that I had never thought of this question before. Must a gentile be concerned that a restaurant’s equipment absorbed eiver min hachai? Does a Noahide needs to “kasher” a treif restaurant before he can eat there? Oy, the difficulty of being a goy!

“How did you resolve this dilemma?” I timidly asked.

“Well, for a short time our family stopped eating out,” he replied. “You could say that we ate only treif at home. My wife found the situation intolerable – no MacDonald’s or Wendy’s? Although I know that observant Jews do not understand why this is such a serious predicament, but please bear in mind that we made a conscious decision not to become Jewish. One of our reasons was that we enjoy eating out wherever we can.

“So I decided to ask some rabbis I know, but even then the end of the road was not clearly in sight.”

“Why was that?”

“I had difficulty finding a rabbi who could answer the question. From what I understand, a rabbi’s ordination teaches him the basics necessary to answer questions that apply to kosher kitchens. But I don’t have a kosher house – we observe Adamite laws. As one rabbi told me, ‘I don’t know if Noahides need to be concerned about what was previously cooked in their pots.’”

“How did you resolve the predicament?”

How treif is treif?

“Eventually, we found a rabbi who contended that we need not be concerned about how pots and grills were previously used. He explained that we could assume that they had not been used for eiver min hachai in the past 24 hours, which certainly sounds like a viable assumption, and that therefore using them would only involve the possibility of a rabbinic prohibition, and that we gentiles are not required to observe rabbinic restrictions. The last part makes a lot of sense, since there is nothing in the Seven Laws about listening to the rabbis, although I agree that they are smart and sincere people. [Note: I am not certain who it was that John asked. According to Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #19 (at end), there would be no heter to use pots that once absorbed eiver min hachai. There are poskim who disagree with Chasam Sofer (see Darchei Teshuvah 62:5), but many of these hold that there is no prohibition altogether with a gentile using pots absorbed with eiver min hachai.]

“The result is that we now go out to eat frequently, which makes my wife very happy. It was a good decision for our marital bliss, what you call shalom bayis. Although I understand that this is another idea we are not required to observe, it is good, common sense.”

Milah in the Adams Family

When John’s son was born, he raised an interesting shaylah. To quote him: “Circumcision as a religious practice originates with G-d’s covenant with Abraham, the first Jew. But my covenant with G-d predates Abraham and does not include circumcision. However, even though there was no religious reason for my son to be circumcised, my wife and I thought it was a good idea for health reasons. On the other hand, I know that many authorities forbid a gentile, which I technically am, from observing any commandments that he is not specifically commanded (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:9).”

John is a very gregarious type, and loves to explain things fully. “We actually had two concerns about whether we could circ John Jr. The second one was that many authorities contend that the seventh mitzvah of instating ‘Laws,’ which you call ‘Dinim,’ includes a prohibition against injuring someone (Ramban, Genesis, oops, I mean Bereishis 34:13). According to this opinion, someone who hits someone during a street fight may lose his world to come for violating one of our seven tenets. I have come too far to risk losing my share in the world to come, so I try very hard not to violate any of the laws. I called some rabbis I know to ask whether there was any problem with circumcising my son for health reasons. The rabbi I asked felt that since we are doing this for medical reasons, it is similar to donating blood or undergoing surgery. The upshot was that we did what no self-respecting Jew should ever do: We had a pediatrician circumcise John Jr. on the third day after his birth, to emphasize that we were not performing any mitzvah.”

No Bris

Proud to show off his Hebrew, John finished by saying: “So we had a milah, but no bris. We also decided to skip the bagels and lox. Instead, my wife and I decided it was more appropriate to celebrate with shrimp cocktails, even though primordial Adam didn’t eat shrimp. All types of meat were only permitted to Noah after the Deluge, which you call the mabul. I believe that some authorities rule that Adam was permitted road kill and was only prohibited from slaughtering, while others understand he had to be strictly vegetarian. My wife and I discussed whether to go vegetarian to keep up the Adams tradition, but decided that if meat was ‘kosher’ enough for Noah, it is kosher enough for us. We decided we weren’t keeping any stringent practices even if they become stylish.”

Earning a Living

“Have you experienced any other serious dilemmas due to your being an ‘Adamite?’”

“Oh, yes. I almost had to change my career.”

I found this very curious. As John Adams seemed like an honest individual, it seemed unlikely that he had made his living by stealing or any similar dishonest activity.

Non-Jews are forbidden to perform abortions, which might affect how a Noahide gynecologist earns a living, but John is a lawyer, not a doctor. Even if John used to worship idols or had the bad habit of blaspheming, how would that affect his career?

May a Gentile Practice Law?

John’s research into Noahide law led him to the very interesting conclusion that his job as an assistant district attorney was halachically problematic. Here is what led him to this conclusion.

One of the mitzvos, or probably more accurately, categories of mitzvos, in which a Noahide is commanded in the mitzvah of dinim, literally, laws. The authorities dispute the exact definition and nature of this mitzvah. It definitely includes a requirement that gentile societies establish courts and prosecute those who violate the Noahide laws (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 9:4; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14). Some authorities contend that the mitzvah of dinim prohibits injuring or abusing others or damaging their property (Ramban, Breishis 34:13).

However, this dispute leads to another issue that was more germane to John’s case. There is a major dispute among halachic authorities whether Noahides are governed by the Torah’s rules of property laws, which we refer to as Choshen Mishpat (Shu”t Rama #10), or whether the Torah left it to non-Jews to formulate their own property and other civil laws. If the former is true, a non-Jew may not sue in a civil court that uses any system of law other than the Torah. Instead, he must litigate in a beis din or in a court of non-Jewish judges who follow halachic guidelines. Following this approach, if a gentile accepts money based on civil litigation, he is considered as stealing, just as a Jew is. This approach is accepted by many early poskim (e.g., Tumim 110:3). Some authorities extend this mitzvah further, contending that the mitzvos governing proper functioning of courts and civil laws apply to Noahides (Minchas Chinuch #414; 415). Following this approach, enforcing a criminal code that does not follow the Torah rules violates the mitzvah of dinim.

As John discovered, some authorities extend this idea quite far. For example, one of the mitzvos of the Torah prohibits a beis din from convicting or punishing someone based on circumstantial evidence (Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos, Lo Saaseh #290; Sefer HaChinuch #82). If the same applies to the laws of dinim, a gentile court has no right to use circumstantial evidence (Minchas Chinuch #82, #409). Thus, John was faced with an interesting predicament. According to these opinions, a gentile who prosecutes because of circumstantial evidence might violate the Seven Mitzvos of Noah even if the accused party appears to be guilty. It is understood that according to these opinions, one may not prosecute for the violation of a crime that the Torah does not consider to be criminal, or to sue for damages for a claim that has no halachic basis.

Napoleonic Code and Halacha

On the other hand, other authorities contend that non-Jews are not obligated to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat; but instead the Torah requires them to create their own legal rules and procedures (HaEmek Shaylah #2:3; Chazon Ish, Bava Kamma 10:1). These authorities rule that gentiles perform a mitzvah when creating a legal system for themselves such as the Napoleonic Code, English Common Law, or any other commercial code. Following this approach, a non-Jew may use secular courts to resolve his litigation and even fulfills a mitzvah by doing so. Thus, John could certainly continue his work as a D.A. and that it would be a mitzvah for him to do so.

It is interesting to note that following the stricter ruling in this case also creates a leniency. According to those who rule that a gentile is not required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile may not study these laws, since the Torah prohibits a gentile from studying Torah (see Tosafos, Bava Kamma 38a s.v. karu; cf., however, that the Meiri, Sanhedrin 59a, rules that a gentile who decides to observe a certain mitzvah may study the laws of that mitzvah in order to fulfill it correctly.) However, according to those who contend that the mitzvos of dinim follow the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile is required to study these laws in order to observe his mitzvos properly (Shu”t Rama #10)).

John’s Dilemma

The rabbis with whom John consulted felt that a gentile could work as a district attorney. However, John had difficulty with this approach. He found it difficult to imagine that G-d would allow man to make such basic decisions and felt it more likely that mankind was expected to observe the Torah’s civil code. He therefore gravitated to the opinion of those who held that gentiles are required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat. As a result, he felt that he should no longer work in the D.A.’s office, since his job is to prosecute based on laws and a criminal justice system that the Torah does not accept.

“What did you do?”

“I decided to ‘switch sides’ and become a defense attorney, which has a practical advantage because I make a lot more money.”

“How do you handle a case where you know that your client is guilty?”

“Firstly, is he guilty according to halachah? Did he perform a crime? Is there halachically acceptable evidence? If there is no halachically acceptable evidence, he is not required to plead guilty. Furthermore, since none of my clients are Noahides or observant Jews, they can’t make it to heaven anyway, so let them enjoy themselves here. Even if my client is guilty, the punishment determined by the court is not halachically acceptable. It is very unclear whether jail terms are halachically acceptable punishment for gentiles. Philosophically, I was always opposed to jail time. I think that there are better ways to teach someone to right their ways than by incarceration, which is a big expense for society.”

Interesting Noahide Laws

“Have you come across any other curious issues?”

“Here is a really unusual question I once raised,” John responded. “Am I permitted to vote in the elections for a local judge? According to some authorities, the Torah’s prohibition against appointing a judge who is halachically incompetent applies equally to gentiles (Minchas Chinuch #414). Thus, one may not appoint a judge to the bench who does not know the appropriate Torah laws, which precludes all the candidates. When I vote for one of those candidates, I am actively choosing a candidate who is halachically unqualified to judge. I therefore decided that although there are authorities who rule this is permitted, and that therefore it is permitted to vote, I wanted to be consistent in my position. As a result, I vote religiously, but not for judgeships.

Becoming Jewish

“John, did you ever consider becoming Jewish?”

“First of all, I know that the rabbis will discourage me from becoming Jewish, particularly since I don’t really want to. I know exactly what I am required to keep and I keep that properly. I have no interest in being restricted where and what I eat, and I have no interest in observing Shabbos, which, at present, I may not observe anyway, and that is fine with me (Gemara Sanhedrin 58b). I am very willing to be a ‘Shabbos goy’— and I understand well what the Jews need — but it is rare that I find myself in this role. Remember, I do not live anywhere near a Jewish community.

Although I have never learned how to read Hebrew – why bother, I am not supposed to study Torah anyway – I ask enough questions from enough rabbis to find out all I need to know.

In Conclusion

Although it seems strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, this should actually be commonplace. Indeed, many non-Jews are concerned about their future place in Olam Haba and, had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, many thousands more would observe the mitzvos that they are commanded. When we meet sincere non-Jews, we should direct them correctly in their quest for truth. Gentiles who observe these mitzvos because Hashem commanded them through Moshe Rabbeinu are called “Chassidei Umos HaOlam” and merit a place in Olam Haba.

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