Miscellaneous Mitzvah Matters

The midrash at the beginning of this week’s parsha mentions that the details of all mitzvos were taught at Sinai, making this topic extremely timely…

Question #1: Choosing your Mitzvos

“I don’t have enough money for all the mitzvah objects that I need. Which should I purchase?”

Question #2: Extra Mezuzos

“I have extra mezuzos. May I use them for tefillin?”

Question #3: When Do We Recite a brocha?

“Why don’t we recite a brocha when we put tzitzis onto a garment, yet we recite a brocha when we affix a mezuzah to a door?”

Introduction

The first two of our opening questions deal with a very interesting issue: Are there hierarchies among our mitzvos? In other words, are some mitzvos more important than others?

We do not usually attempt to judge which mitzvah is more important, since it is our obligation to observe all the mitzvos to the best of our ability. Nevertheless, there are occasional circumstances when we must decide which mitzvah is more “valuable.” One example when this could happen is when we must choose between observing one mitzvah and another. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 34b) discusses a situation in which one has to choose whether to spend Rosh Hashanah in a place where there is someone to blow shofar, but no Rosh Hashanah davening, or in another place where there is Rosh Hashanah davening, but no shofar. The Gemara concludes that it is more important to spend Rosh Hashanah in a place where there might be an opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of shofar, than to go somewhere else where there will definitely be davening but no shofar blowing. This is because safek d’oraysa, a possibility of fulfilling a mitzvah min haTorah,carries more weight than definitively fulfilling that which is required only miderabbanan.

Yerushalmi

A more revealing and detailed discussion is in the Talmud Yerushalmi, at the very end of Mesechta Megillah, which quotes a dispute between Shmuel and Rav Huna concerning someone who has only sufficient money to purchase either tefillin or mezuzah, but not both. The question debated in the passage of the Yerushalmi is: Which mitzvah is it more important to fulfill? The explanations provided in this passage of the Yerushalmi provide insight into other mitzvos, should these rules need to be applied. For example, should someone have to choose between purchasing the four species for Sukkos or materials for a sukkah, which takes precedence? (For simplicity’s sake throughout the rest of this article, I will refer to the purchasing of the four species for Sukkos as simply the mitzvah of “lulav.”) Or, should one have to choose between purchasing a lulav or purchasing tefillin, which takes precedence? This passage of Yerushalmi provides foundation for subsequent halachic discussion on these issues.

Let us quote the passage of the Yerushalmi:

Tefillin and mezuzah, which comes first? Shmuel said, “Mezuzah comes first.” Rav Huna said, “Tefillin comes first.” What is Shmuel’s reason? Because mezuzah applies on Shabbos and Yom Tov. What is Rav Huna’s reason? Because tefillin applies to people traveling on the seas and in deserts. A beraisa (teaching of the era of the Mishnah, but not included in the Mishnah) supports Shmuel, which says that if tefillin have worn out, one may use its parshiyos (written parchments) for mezuzah, but one may not use a mezuzah for tefillin, since we have a general rule that one increases but does not decrease sanctity.

To explain the Yerushalmi’s conclusion: The mitzvah of tefillin requires use of four sections of the Torah, two in parshas Bo, and two others, the first two of the three parshiyos of kerias shma, which are from parshas Va’eschanan and parshas Eikev. A mezuzah includes only these last two sections of the Torah. May one take the pieces of parchment that were used as a mezuzah and use them for tefillin, or vice versa — if they were used for tefillin can they be used for a mezuzah?

Understanding Shmuel

Shmuel contends that since mezuzah applies every day of the year, it is a greater and holier mitzvah than tefillin. The Gemara quotes two ramifications of this ruling:

(1) Should one be able to fulfill only one of these two mitzvos, mezuzah is preferred.

(2) Parshiyos once used for tefillin may be used for a mezuzah, but a mezuzah may not be used for parshiyos in tefillin. Since mezuzah is a holier mitzvah, using a mezuzah for tefillin decreases its sanctity, which is not permitted. This is because of a general halachic rule, maalin bekodesh velo moridim:something may be elevated to a use that is of greater sanctity, but it may not be reduced to a lower level of sanctity. For example, a kohein gadol can never return to being a kohein hedyot, a regular kohein. Since the beraisa quoted by the Yerushalmi states that one may not use mezuzah parshiyos for tefillin, the conclusion is, like Shmuel, that mezuzah is more important.

There is a question on Shmuel’s explanation. In what way does mezuzah apply on Shabbos and Yom Tov, when one is not permitted to put a mezuzah on a door on either of these holidays, because of the melacha involved? The answer is that, if someone is required to affix a mezuzah but did not, he is not permitted to spend Shabbos in that house unless he has nowhere else to live (see Pri Megadim, Orach Chaim, Eishel Avraham 38:15; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 285:5). In other words, although one may not install a mezuzah on Shabbos or Yom Tov, the mitzvah still applies on those days.

Understanding Rav Huna

Rav Huna explains that on days that one is obligated to wear tefillin, there are no exemptions from that responsibility. On the other hand, someone who has no residence is not obligated in mezuzah. In theory, one can exempt oneself from the mitzvah of mezuzah by avoiding living in a residence. Therefore, tefillin is a greater mitzvah than mezuzah.

This has two ramifications:

(1) Should one be able to fulfill only one of these two mitzvos, tefillin is preferred.

(2) A mezuzah may be used for parshiyos in a pair of tefillin, but parshiyos used for tefillin may not be used for mezuzah. Since tefillin is a holier mitzvah, using parshiyos of tefillin for a mezuzah decreases their sanctity, which is not permitted.

How do we rule?

The Rosh (Hilchos Tefillin, Chapter 30) rules that the mitzvah of tefillin is more important, and this approach is followed by the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 38:12), the Rema (Yoreh Deah 285:1) and the later authorities. The Rosh explains that tefillin is more important because a mitzvah de’gufei adif, literally “a mitzvah of your body is more important.” What does this mean?

One early acharon, the Beis Hillel (Yoreh Deah 285), understood the Rosh to mean that the mitzvah of tefillin is more important because one puts tefillin on his body, as opposed to mezuzah, which is on one’s house, not body. Based on his reason, the Beis Hillel concludes that tefillin is more important than sukkah or lulav, since neither of these mitzvos is performed on one’s body to the extent that tefillin is. Once the Beis Hillel is discussing which mitzvos are “more important,” he discusses whether tefillin is more important than tzitzis or vice versa, concluding that tefillin are more important, since the name of Hashem is in the tefillin.

However, most authorities understand that the Rosh means something else. They explain that the mitzvah of tefillin is inherently obligatory, whereas the mitzvah of mezuzah is circumstantial. Every weekday there is an obligation for every adult Jewish male to don tefillin. The mitzvah of mezuzah is not inherently obligatory, but is dependent on one’s living arrangements, and can be avoided completely (Gra; Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his notes to Shulchan Aruch and Responsum 1:9; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 285:5). Furthermore, according to most authorities, mezuzah is obligatory min haTorah only if one owns the house in which he lives.

A big difference between these two approaches is germane to the mitzvos of lulav and sukkah. According to the Beis Hillel, these mitzvos carry less weight than tefillin. However, according to those who disagree with him, both of these mitzvos are inherently obligatory, just as tefillin. This would mean that, regarding the Rosh’s criterion, all three of these mitzvos should be treated on an equal footing, and we would need to find other criteria to decide which of them is more important.

Tefillin or Sukkah?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger notes that the above-discussed passage of Yerushalmi provides an answer to this question. There it stated that a mitzvah that occurs more frequently should be prioritized over one that occurs less frequently. Tefillin is far more frequently observed than either sukkah or lulav, and, therefore, should be treated with more priority than they are.

However, notes Rabbi Akiva Eiger, this question is usually moot for the following reason: When one has a mitzvah that he is obligated to observe immediately, he does not wait to fulfill it. Therefore, any time other than erev Sukkos, one who needs to choose between these mitzvos should use the funds to acquire tefillin, since he has that responsibility immediately, and the mitzvos of Sukkos will wait. If the situation occurs during chol hamoed Sukkos, the priority will be: sukkah, tefillin, lulav. This is because the mitzvah of sukkah is, at the moment, definitely min haTorah, whereas even those who wear tefillin on chol hamoed accept that it is disputed whether there is a mitzvah to wear them on chol hamoed. Therefore, sukkah, which is definitely a requirement min haTorah on all seven days of Sukkos, takes precedence over tefillin. Since the mitzvah of taking lulav is min haTorah only on the first day of Sukkos, but afterwards is required only miderabbanan (unless one is in or near the Beis Hamikdash grounds), tefillin will have precedence over lulav for those who wear tefillin on chol hamoed, which is the assumption that Rabbi Akiva Eiger makes.

Tefillin versus tzitzis

Rabbi Akiva Eiger agrees that tefillin is more important than tzitzis, but for a different reason than that provided by the Beis Hillel. Tzitzis is like mezuzah – there is only an obligation if he has a four-cornered garment, but it is not an automatic requirement. Although one is obligated to place tzitzis on any four-cornered garment that one owns and wears, one can avoid wearing four-cornered garments more easily than one can avoid living in a house that one owns. On the other hand, a man is required to wear tefillin every weekday.

Difficulty with the Rosh

Notwithstanding that all later authorities conclude that tefillin is considered a more “important” mitzvah than mezuzah, a difficulty is presented by the Rosh’s conclusion. Why would he rule according to Rav Huna, when the Yerushalmi’s conclusion is, like Shmuel, that mezuzah is a more important mitzvah?

The answer is that the Talmud Bavli (Menachos 32a) states the following: “A sefer Torah that wore out, or tefillin that wore out, cannot be used for a mezuzah, because one is not permitted to reduce something from a greater sanctity to a lower one.” Thus, we see that the Bavli ruled according to Rav Huna, that tefillin is a greater mitzvah than mezuzah, and the halacha follows the Bavli over the Yerushalmi (Beis Yosef, end of Orach Chayim, Chapter 38).

Practically speaking

The Magen Avraham (38:15), one of the major halachic authorities, notes that, although the mitzvah of tefillin is more important than mezuzah, in practice it might be better for someone to purchase mezuzos. Someone might be able to coordinate his schedule such that he can borrow tefillin from other people when he needs them for davening every day, something impractical to do with mezuzos. Thus, if he can thereby observe both mitzvos, he should purchase the mezuzos to allow this. This ruling is followed by the later authorities (Shulchan Aruch Harav; Mishnah Berurah; Aruch Hashulchan).

Nevertheless, the rule has not changed: Someone who will be unable to observe the mitzvah of tefillin should purchase tefillin first and wait until he has more resources before he purchases mezuzos (Shulchan Aruch Harav; Mishnah Berurah; Aruch Hashulchan).

Choosing your mitzvos

At this point, we can now address our opening question: “I don’t have enough money for all the mitzvah objects that I need. Which should I purchase?”

The halachic conclusion is:

He should first see which mitzvos he can fulfill without purchasing them. For example, he might be able to borrow tefillin, and he also might be able to use someone else’s sukkah. If he lives near someone else who is observant, he should be able to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav with someone else’s lulav. In earlier generations, it was common for an entire community to purchase only one set of four minim, and everyone used that set to fulfill the mitzvah. Mezuzah is more difficult to observe with borrowed items, and, therefore, he might need to purchase mezuzos ahead of tefillin, lulav, or sukkah, notwithstanding that they are obligatory mitzvos to a greater extent than mezuzah is.

Furthermore, which mitzvah he will need to observe first might be a factor, as we saw from Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s discussion about someone who needs to purchase tefillin, sukkah and lulav.

When Do We Recite a Brocha?

At this point, we can discuss the third of our opening questions: “Why don’t we recite a brocha when we put tzitzis onto a garment, yet we recite a brocha when we place a mezuzah on a door?”

This question is raised by the Magen Avraham, in his commentary on the following words of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 19:1): “Until one dons the garment, one is exempt from putting tzitzis on it. For this reason, one does not recite a brocha when one places the tzitzis on the garment, since the mitzvah is only when you wear it.”

The Magen Avraham (19:1) asks why we do not recite a brocha when putting tzitzis onto a garment, yet we recite a brocha when we affix a mezuzah to a door? The Magen Avraham answers that the reason is practical. Usually, one moves into the house first, before he installs the mezuzah, and, since he already lives in the house, he is responsible to have a mezuzah on the door. Thus, placing the mezuzah on the door is the fulfillment of the mitzvah and warrants a brocha. On the other hand, one does not usually place tzitzis on a garment while wearing it, but before he puts it on, when there is no obligation yet to fulfill a mitzvah.

Based on his analysis, the Magen Avraham rules that should any of the tzitzis tear off a garment while someone is wearing it, and he attaches replacement tzitzis while he is still wearing it, he should recite a brocha prior to attaching the replacement. The brocha he would recite in this instance is Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu la’asos tzitzis, which translates as a brocha “to make tzitzis,” a text that we do not have recorded by any earlier authority.

Notwithstanding his conclusion, the Magen Avraham rules that this is not the preferable way to act, but, rather, he should remove the tzitzis once they become invalid and attach replacement tzitzis without a brocha. On the other hand, the Magen Avraham contends that if a mezuzah falls off or becomes invalid, the occupant is not required to relocate until he can replace the mezuzah. The difference between the two cases is how much tircha the person is required to undergo – one is required to remove a pair of tzitzis, which is a simple act, but not required to relocate himself and his family until he has a chance to replace or reaffix the mezuzah.

The Magen Avraham then suggests that if someone affixed a mezuzah before he moved into a house, he should not recite the brocha when he affixes the mezuzah, but when he moves in he should recite the brocha, Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu ladur babayis sheyeish bo mezuzah, “to live in a house that has a mezuzah,” again, a new text of a brocha not recorded by any earlier authority.

The Birkei Yosef (Orach Chayim 19:2) disagrees with the Magen Avraham, contending that we should not create texts of brochos that we do not find in early sources. In regard to the Magen Avraham’s question, why do we recite a brocha upon affixing a mezuzah but not upon placing tzitzis, the Birkei Yosef provides a different answer: Chazal required a brocha on the last act that you do to fulfill a mitzvah. In the case of tzitzis, it is when you put on the garment. In the case of mezuzah, it is when you affix it. However, if there is a mezuzah on the door already, one does not recite a brocha upon moving into a house, since one did not perform any act to fulfill the mitzvah.

Conclusion

A famous quotation from a non-Jewish source is: “Is G-d more concerned about what comes into our mouth or what comes out?” This question assumes that some of Hashem’s mitzvos are more “important” for us to observe than others. The Torah’s answer is that it is not for us to decide which of the mitzvos is more important. One grows in one’s relationship with Hashem through each opportunity to perform a mitzvah.




Blended and Synthetic Tzitzis

According to Chazal, as reward for Avraham turning down the king of Sodom’s offer, and declining to take even a chut, a thread, his descendants were rewarded with the mitzvah of tzitzis.

Question #1: Silk Talis

“I grew up in a conservative home, and, prior to my bar mitzvah, I was given a ‘bar mitzvah set,’ which included tefillin and a silk talis. I have since discovered that the tefillin were completely non-kosher. Must I assume that there is a problem with the talis also, since it is made from silk?”

Question #2: Prefers Rayon

“What is the basis of the halachic controversy whether one may have a talis koton made of rayon?”

Question #3: Blended Tzitzis

“I have a talis koton that says that it is made of a cotton-polyester blend. Do I recite a brocha when I put it on?”

Answer

Twice each day, we recite the passage that obligates Jewish men to tie tzitzis to the four corners of their garments. The Torah states (Bamidbar 15:38): Dabeir el benei Yisrael ve’amarta aleihem ve’asu lahem tzitzis al kanfei vigdeihem, Speak to the children of Israel and say to them that they should make tzitzis on the corners of their garments.

The topic for today’s discussion is: What type of material are we obligated to use in the mitzvah of tzitzis? Do the corners of all garments require one to place tzitzis? As we will see, the question involves both an issue of Torah law and of rabbinic law.

Only wool or linen?

The Gemara (Menachos 39b) records an early dispute whether the Torah’s mitzvah of tzitzis applies only to garments made of sheep’s wool or of linen. According to Rav Nachman, a four-cornered garment made of silk, cotton, or any other material that is neither sheep’s wool nor linen is not included, min hatorah, in the mitzvah of tzitzis. (For the balance of this article, “wool” will mean specifically wool of sheep. The word tzemer in the Torah means the wool of sheep. Therefore, a blend of linen and wool processed from camels, llamas, rabbits, goats [such as cashmere or mohair] or other animals is not shatnez min hatorah [Kelayim 9:1]. A garment made of a woolen blend containing no sheep’s wool is shatnez only because of rabbinic injunction.) According to Rav Nachman, there is a requirement to attach tzitzis to four-cornered garments made from other cloth, but it is only miderabbanan, so that people should be careful to wear tzitzis (Rambam, Hilchos Tzitzis 3:2).

All fibers are min hatorah

Rav Yehudah and Rava disagree with Rav Nachman, contending that, min hatorah, silk and all other fibers are obligated in mitzvas tzitzis (Menachos 39b). The Gemara notes that this dispute originates among the tanna’im, and that the dispute also affects whether other materials, such as silk, cashmere and mohair, are subject to the tumah of nega’im. According to Rav Nachman and the tanna with whom he sides, the telltale red or green blemishes of tzaraas only make garments made of either wool or linen tamei. Should a garment made of silk, cotton, cashmere, mohair, or other cloth display inexplicable red or green blemishes reminiscent of tzaraas, the garment remains tahor, since these materials are not susceptible to nega’im. However, according to Rav Yehudah and Rava, silk, cotton and other cloth are susceptible to the laws of tzaraas.

What is the halachah?

The Rambam (Hilchos Tzitzis 3:1,2) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 9:1) rule that only linen and wool require tzitzis min hatorah, and the Rambam (Hilchos Tumas Tzaraas 13:1,3) rules that only cloth made of linen and wool are affected by the laws of tzaraas. On the other hand, other authorities rule that all materials require tzitzis min hatorah, and this is the way the Rema rules (Orach Chayim 9:1). (These authorities would also hold that all garments are susceptible to tumas nega’im, but they do not discuss the laws of tumah and taharah because, unfortunately, they are not germane in our day.)

Is there any difference in halachah? After all, both approaches rule that one is required to put tzitzis on four-cornered garments made of cotton, silk or cashmere. What difference does it make whether the garment is obligated in the mitzvah min hatorah or miderabbanan?

There can be several practical differences that result. The most obvious is that, since it is exemplary for someone to fulfill a mitzvah min hatorah when he can, is it preferable to wear a garment made of wool over one made of cotton. For this reason, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one should wear a talis koton made of wool, even though it is more comfortable to wear a cotton talis koton in the summer, since one who wears a woolen talis koton thereby fulfills a mitzvah min hatorah, according to all opinions (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:1). On the other hand, other prominent authorities followed the approach of the Rema, contending that an Ashkenazi who is uncomfortable wearing woolen tzitzis in the summer may wear a talis koton made of cotton.

Silk talis

At this point, we can address the first question asked above: “I grew up in a conservative home, and, prior to my bar mitzvah, I was given a ‘bar mitzvah set,’ which included tefillin and a silk talis. I have since discovered that the tefillin were completely non-kosher. Must I assume that there is a problem with the talis also, since it is made of silk?”

The answer is that the fact that the garment or its tzitzis are made from silk does not present any halachic problem. However, there is another potential concern:.

Special strings

The tzitzis threads must be spun with the intent that they will be used to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis. After completing the spinning, one takes several of these specially-spun threads and twists them together into a thicker string. This twisting is also performed lishmah. The authorities dispute whether attaching the tzitzis strings to the garment and tying them must also be performed lishmah. In practice we are stringent (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 14:2 and commentaries).

Many authorities contend that, when manufacturing an item lishmah, one must articulate this intent (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah Chapter 3). This means that the person spinning or twisting the tzitzis must say that he is doing so in order to make tzitzis for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:1 and Mishnah Berurah, ad locum).

The concern about the silk talis koton, then, is that we need to determine that the tzitzis tied to them were indeed made properly lishmah.

Polyester, rayon or nylon?

At this point, we can discuss whether the mitzvah of tzitzis applies to synthetic materials. Within the last century, mankind has successfully developed numerous fabrics that are lighter than cotton, and which some people find more comfortable to wear. The question is whether a four-cornered garment made from these materials is obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis. Obviously, according to those who hold that only wool and linen are obligated in tzitzis min hatorah, these garments are not obligated min hatorah, and the question is whether there is an obligation miderabbanan. According to the Rema, who rules that all materials are obligated in tzitzis, the question might even be whether rayon, nylon or other polyester materials are obligated in tzitzis min hatorah.

Why should they not be? Answering this question requires its own introduction.

Tzitzis on leather ponchos

Notwithstanding the conclusion that silk and other materials require tzitzis, a different passage of Gemara (Menachos 40b) assumes that leather garments are exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. The Gemara cites a dispute among amora’im regarding whether a garment made of material obligated in tzitzis, but whose corners are made of leather, is obligated in tzitzis. It also cites a dispute whether a garment made of leather whose corners are made of cloth is obligated in tzitzis. Rav and Rav Zeira contend that, in both instances, the main part of the garment is the determinant — a cloth garment with leather corners is obligated to have tzitzis tied to its corners, whereas a leather garment with cloth corners is absolved from the mitzvah of tzitzis. Rav Acha’i disputes with Rav and Rav Zeira, contending that the material comprising the corner determines whether the garment requires tzitzis. Clearly, all the amora’im are in agreement that a garment made completely from leather is exempt from tzitzis.

Why is hide outside?

Why is leather different from all the other materials mentioned that are obligated in tzitzis? We will need to answer this question and then see whether synthetic materials are treated like leather and absolved from the mitzvah of tzitzis, or whether they are like silk and the other materials that are obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis.

I found two basic approaches to explain why leather is treated differently from other materials. One approach is that leather is not woven, but is cut to size, and that the mitzvah of tzitzis applies only to woven material. This approach is implied by several acharonim (Levush, Orach Chayim 10:4; Graz 10:7).

Nylon and tzitzis

I found several responsa which discuss whether synthetic materials are obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis. In each case, the questioner “preferred” that the synthetic garment be obligated in the mitzvah. In other words, since one is rewarded for wearing tzitzis daily, the questioner was interested in fulfilling the mitzvah by wearing tzitzis that are on a four-cornered garment made of polyester, nylon or rayon, desiring to wear a cooler material than wool or cotton.

One responsum on the subject is authored by Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:9). He understands that leather is exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis because it is not woven, and that any four-cornered garment that is not woven is exempt from tzitzis, whereas a woven four-cornered garment is obligated in tzitzis. He then notes that there are two types of nylon garments, one made from woven nylon thread, which he rules would be required to have tzitzis, and one made from sheets of nylon, which are not woven and therefore absolved from the mitzvah of tzitzis, just as leather is.

Disputing approaches

Other authorities reach a different conclusion, for the following reason. In another context, several earlier authorities explain the distinction between leather and other materials in a different way. While discussing the minimum size  for a garment to contract tumah, the Mishnah (Keilim 27:1) teaches that leather clothing is not susceptible to become tamei unless it is larger than the halachic category called arig, which refers to woven material. In their commentaries on that Mishnah, the Rash and the Bartenura both explain that, were one to slice leather into very thin slices and weave them into a garment, the garment thereby produced would still have the halachah of leather and not that of a woven garment. These authorities recognize that the distinction between leather and woven materials is not the process of weaving, but something more basic.

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that “woven cloth” means material that is a natural fiber that is spun into thread and then woven into cloth. Neither leather nor synthetics meet this definition. Rav Moshe contends that a fiber that can be woven into material is included under the category of arig for tumah purposes and for the obligation of tzitzis. Therefore, Rav Moshe concludes that a four-cornered garment made from synthetic material is exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. Wearing tzitzis tied onto such a garment does not accomplish any mitzvah, and reciting a brocha prior to donning this garment is a brocha levatalah, one recited in vain. Furthermore, according to Rav Moshe, wearing such a garment on Shabbos might violate carrying, since the tzitzis are not part of the garment. (The details of this topic are beyond the scope of this article, but see the correspondence and dispute of the Shu”t Meishiv Davar 1:2 with the Mishnah Berurah.)

The Rambam’s commentary

In his commentary to the Mishnah in Keilim, the Rambam seems to explain the Mishnah differently than do the Rash and the Bartenura. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe understands that all three of these authorities understand this aspect of the topic in the same way, but that the Rambam was emphasizing a different point. Thus, Rav Moshe concludes that all early authorities would exempt these synthetic materials from the mitzvah of tzitzis and that this is the halachah.

Tzitz Eliezer and tzitzis

Rav Moshe’s approach is disputed by Rav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg (Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 12:3), who disagrees with Rav Moshe’s understanding of the Rambam. Whereas Rav Moshe understands that the Rambam is explaining the difference between leather and woven materials the same way that the Rash and the Bartenura do, the Tzitz Eliezer explains the Rambam to be making the same distinction as do the Levush, the Graz and the Har Tzvi, i.e.,that leather is not considered arig because it is not woven. As we mentioned above, in the opinion of these latter authorities, anything woven is obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis. The Tzitz Eliezer understands that the Rambam is making the same distinction germane to what is considered arig for the laws of tumah. Since the later authorities accept this distinction, Rav Valdenberg concludes that four-cornered synthetic garments, which are woven, are obligated in tzitzis, and that those who are uncomfortable wearing other cloth may fulfill the mitzvah by wearing rayon or polyester tzitzis. Because there are early authorities who dispute this conclusion, namely the Rash and the Bartenura, Rav Valdenberg rules that those who wear these tzitzis should not recite a brocha when putting them on.

Prefers rayon

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “What is the basis of the halachic controversy whether one may have a talis koton made of rayon?”

The answer is that it depends on why leather is exempt from tzitzis. If leather is exempt because only woven fabrics are obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis, then a rayon four-cornered garment is obligated in the mitzvah, and one fulfills the mitzvah by wearing it. On the other hand, if leather is exempt because only naturally fibrous materials are obligated in tzitzis, then rayon is exempt from tzitzis, and nothing is accomplished by tying tzitzis to a four-cornered rayon garment.

Metal clothing

This author would like to note another situation, although today uncommon, which should result from the dispute between Rav Pesach Frank and Rav Moshe. According to both approaches, if someone makes a four-cornered garment from metal plating, the garment is exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. According to Rav Moshe, it would be exempt because it is not made from material that is naturally fibrous, whereas according to Rav Frank, it would be exempt because it was not woven. However, already in the time of chumash, metal was sliced into filaments which were woven into clothing. Is a four-cornered garment woven from metal filament obligated in tzitzis? According to Rav Frank, this garment should be obligated in tzitzis since it is woven, whereas, according to Rav Moshe, it should not, since this material is not naturally fibrous.

Blends

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

“I have a talis koton that says that it is made of a cotton-polyester blend. Do I recite a brocha when I put it on?”

When a thread is spun from a blend of fibers, the halachic status of the thread is determined by what composes most of the thread’s fiber content and ignores the existence of other fibers inside the thread (Mishnah Kelayim 9:1). The minority of fiber is halachically bateil, or nullified, to the majority fiber content in the thread. Thus, threads spun from a mixture that is mostly cotton fiber with some linen fiber are considered cotton and may be woven in a woolen garment without creating a prohibition of shatnez. Similarly, a garment consisting of threads made of a blend of mostly mohair, but including some sheep’s wool fiber, that is woven or sewn with linen threads is not shatnez and may be worn.

The same law is true regarding the mitzvah of tzitzis. A garment made of threads that are a blend that is mostly rayon or polyester fiber and includes cotton fiber will have the halachic status of a rayon garment and be exempt from tzitzis, according to Rav Moshe’s ruling. Of course, according to Rav Frank, this garment is obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch notes that the root of the word tzitzis is to “sprout” or “blossom,” a strange concept to associate with garments, which do not grow. He explains that the message of our clothing is extended, that is, sprouts and blossoms, by virtue of our tzitzis. The introduction of clothing to Adam and Chavah was to teach man that his destiny is greater than an animal’s, and that his responsibility is to make all his decisions according to Hashem’s laws, and not his own desires. Introducing tzitzis onto a Jew’s garments reinforces this idea; we must act according to what Hashem expects. Thus, whether we are wearing, shopping for, examining or laundering tzitzis, we must remember our life’s goal: fulfilling Hashem’s instructions, not our own desires.




A Woman’s Guide to Tzitzis

The Torn Hole

Question # 1

Mrs. Friedman wants to know:

“The hole on my son’s talis koton in which the tzitzis strings are inserted is torn. Does this invalidate Yanki’s tzitzis?”

The Unraveled Knot

Question #2

Mrs. Weiss notices that the knots on her son’s tzitzis have untied. Are his tzitzis still kosher?

A Bicycle Casualty

Question #3, from Mrs. Goldberg:

“My son’s tzitzis got caught in his bicycle and several strings were torn. Are the tzitzis invalid?”

The Woman’s Tzitzis Guide

Why write a woman’s guide to tzitzis, when women are not required to observe the mitzvah, and, according to many authorities, are not even permitted to wear them? (See Targum Yonasan to Devarim 22:5, that a woman wearing tzitzis violates the prohibition of wearing a man’s garment.) In addition, some authorities contend that because women are exempt from fulfilling the mitzvah, they should not attach the tzitzis strings to the garment (Rama, Orach Chayim 14:1 and commentaries). (The Rama concludes that if a woman did attach the tzitzis to the garment, the tzitzis are kosher.)

The reason for this guide is that women are often responsible for the purchase, supervision, upkeep, and laundering of the tzitzis of their boys and men. Indeed, women often ask me questions relevant to these halachos. Men will also find this guide very useful.

In order to answer the above questions thoroughly, we must first understand some basics about how tzitzis are produced.

Please note that throughout this article, “tzitzis” refers to the strings placed on the corners of the garment; the garment itself will be called a “talis koton.”

Special Strings

Tzitzis are not manufactured from ordinary thread, but only from thread manufactured lishmah, meaning that the threads were spun with the intent that they be used to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis.

After completing the spinning, one takes several of these specially-spun threads and twists them together into a thicker string. This twisting, called shezirah, is also performed lishmah, with the intent of producing string for the mitzvah of tzitzis. Although, to the best of my knowledge, no early halachic sources discuss how many threads one needs to twist together, some have the custom of twisting eight such threads, which are called kaful shemonah.

The authorities dispute whether attaching the tzitzis strings to the garment and tying them must also be performed lishmah. In practice, we are stringent (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 14:2 and commentaries).

Combing Lishmah?

Some authorities require that even combing the fibers — the process that precedes the spinning — must be performed lishmah. The authorities conclude that this is not required, although some recommend manufacturing or acquiring tzitzis with this hiddur (Mishnah Berurah 11:3).

Articulation

Many authorities contend that when manufacturing an item lishmah, one must articulate this intent (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah Chapter 3). This means that the person spinning or twisting the tzitzis must say that he is doing so in order to make tzitzis for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:1 and Mishnah Berurah, ad locum). Once one made this declaration (leshem mitzvas tzitzis) at the beginning of the spinning, it is unnecessary to repeat it (Mishnah Berurah).

Hand or Machine?

Regarding whether to buy hand- or machine-spun tzitzis, there is much discussion among authorities as to whether one may rely on machine spinning with the machine operator declaring that the tzitzis are being made lishmah (see for example, Achiezer 3:69; Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:10). This is similar to the dispute concerning whether one may fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh on Seder night with machine matzoh, an issue that involved a huge dispute among the halachic authorities of 19th century Poland.

As far as I am aware, a talis koton sold for children’s use is probably made using machine-made tzitzis. (At the time I first wrote this article, I saw a talis koton meant for children with a hechsher describing that it was made by having the beginning of the spinning done by hand, as a hiddur on the regular machine-made variety.) Both hand- and machine- spun types are readily available for men’s tzitzis,  for talisim kotonim and for talisim gedolim. One should consult his Rav if he is uncertain whether to purchase the more expensive hand-made variety.

What Material Should Be Used?

Although one may make tzitzis threads from other material, universal practice today is to use sheep’s wool.

The Garment Does Not Require Lishmah

The law requiring that the tzitzis be manufactured lishmah applies only to the tzitzis strings, not the garment to which the strings are attached. This garment, the talis or talis koton itself, does not need to be made for the sake of the mitzvah – any cloth may be used.

For reasons beyond the scope of this guide, the custom is to make the talis gadol, that is worn for davening, from wool. Some have the custom to insist on woolen material for the talis koton also, though most are satisfied with a cotton talis koton. Authorities discuss and dispute whether the talis koton can be made of polyester or other synthetic materials, and I leave it to our readers to discuss this issue with their halachic authorities. Perhaps one day I’ll have a chance to write an article on this fascinating topic.

To review:

Before spinning wool to be used for tzitzis, the spinning machine operator, or the hand spinner, should say that he is spinning the threads with the intent that they will be used for the mitzvah of tzitzis. After spinning the wool into threads, one twists several tzitzis threads together into a thick, strong tzitzis string. This latter process also requires lishmah. There is no requirement to make the talis or talis koton garment lishmah.

Inserting the Tzitzis

Having completed the tzitzis string manufacturing process, we are now ready to learn how to insert the tzitzis strings into the garment. One takes four of these specially lishmah-made strings and inserts them through a hole in the corner of the garment, in order to fulfill the verse’s requirement that the tzitzis threads lie over the corner of the garment. The hole must be not so distant from the corner that the tzitzis are considered to be hanging from the main part of the garment (rather than on the corner), and yet not so close that the tzitzis hang completely below the garment (Menachos 42a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:9). Thus, the hole should be placed in a way that after attaching the tzitzis to the garment, only the upper part of the tzitzis rests on the garment.

Where Should the Hole Be?

The Gemara explains that the hole through which the tzitzis are placed should be closer to the corner than “three fingerwidths,” which means three times the width of a finger. Whose finger and which finger?

Most poskim conclude that a fingerwidth is the width of an average-sized man’s thumb at its widest point.

Measure this distance, multiply it by three, and you have “three fingerwidths.” Now, measure three fingerwidths from the two sides of the garment near the corner (not from the actual right-angle corner of the garment) and you can create a square in the corner of the garment (Rama, Orach Chayim 11:9). If the tzitzis are attached beyond this area, they are not considered to be on the corner. Although there is a range of opinion as to exactly how much area this is, most poskim conclude that it is about six centimeters,* or about 2 1/2 inches, from each side.

Others follow a different interpretation of which finger is used to measure this distance, and according to their opinion, the area is a bit smaller (Artzos Hachayim; Mishnah Berurah 11:42).

Closest Hole

The closest the hole should be to the sides of the talis or talis koton is the distance from the end of the thumb nail to the thumb joint, measured by the thumb of an average-sized man. (This measures less than two centimeters or less than .75 inches.) If the hole is made closer than this, the tzitzis are not kosher, because the tzitzis strings will hang below the garment and, as I explained above, they are required to be resting partly on the garment itself. However, if one inserted and knotted the tzitzis threads in a hole that was in the correct place, and then subsequently the garment shrunk or was shortened, or the hole tore, resulting in the tzitzis being closer to the corner than they should, the tzitzis are nonetheless kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:10).

To sum up:

To determine where the hole should be, one can examine the corner of the talis or talis koton and mark inward from the two adjacent sides that form the corner. Within two centimeters of either side is too close to the edge of the garment to attach the tzitzis, and more than six centimeters is too far.

Yes, Mrs. Friedman

Although we have not finished our description of tzitzis production, we have sufficient information to discuss Mrs. Friedman’s question. The hole through which the tzitzis strings are placed tore, and, as a result, the tzitzis are now closer to the corner of the garment than they should be. Does this invalidate the tzitzis?

Since the tzitzis strings were originally inserted into a hole that was correctly located, the tzitzis remain kosher.

I advised Mrs. Friedman to mend and reinforce the garment before it tears so badly that the tzitzis strings fall off, which will invalidate the garment, requiring sewing the clothing and undoing and restringing the tzitzis again to make it kosher.

Four in One

Let us now return to tzitzis production. After making the hole in its correct place, one takes four tzitzis strings that have been spun and twisted lishmah. Three of the threads are the same length, but one of the strings is much longer than the others since it will be coiled around them. After this string is wrapped around the others, it should be about the same length as the other strings.

The strings should be long enough that when they are completely coiled and tied (as I will describe) the free-hanging eight strings should be the length of eight fingerwidths (as described above), which is about 16–20 centimeters or about eight inches.

The Torah requires that there be exactly four tzitzis strings per corner. Using fewer or more strings invalidates the mitzvah and, according to some opinions, violates the Torah prohibitions of bal tosif or bal tigra, adding to or detracting from a Torah commandment (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:12 and commentaries).

Pulling Strings

At this point, one pulls the four strings through the hole in the talis or talis koton until the three shorter strings are halfway through the hole. The longer string should be pulled through so that on one side it is the same length as the other strings, but the other side is much longer, since this extra length will be wrapped around the other strings.

After the four strings are threaded through the garment, there will be eight strings hanging off the garment, which are then knotted together in a tight double knot. This permanent knot is Torah-required. This knot is made by tying a set of four strings from one side with the set of four strings from the opposite side.  To make sure that the two sets of four strings stay together throughout the process of coiling and knotting, one takes the four strings from the side that does not include the long string and loops them together at their end. We will soon see why we perform this step (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 12:1).

The longer string is now coiled several times around the seven others and then the two sets of four strings are knotted tightly. The coiled tzitzis strings are called the gedil.

The accepted custom is to tie the eight strings together in five different places, each separated by an area where the long string is coiled around the others several times. Thus, there are four areas of coiled tzitzis strings, each held in place by double knots.

Remember the Mitzvos!

The five knots help us remember all the mitzvos. As Rashi writes, the gematriya (numerical value) of the word tzitzis (when spelled with the letter yud twice) equals 600. When one adds eight for the eight hanging tzitzis strings and five for the five knots that tie them, adds up to 613. Additionally, the five knots remind us of the Torah’s five chumashim.

The Torah, itself, did not require all these coilings and knots, but required only one knot and one coiled area. The other knots and coilings are only lichatchilah, the proper way to make the tzitzis. However, if one failed to make these coilings or knots, the tzitzis are nevertheless kosher, provided there is at least one coiled gedil area and at least one knot.

Similarly, if the coiling unravels in the middle — not an uncommon occurrence — the tzitzis are still fully kosher, as long as one gedil area remains.

This will help answer Mrs. Weiss’ question about some of her son’s tzitzis knots being untied. As long as one knot remains, and there is some area where the tzitzis strings are coiled together, the tzitzis are still kosher. Of course, one should re-wind the longer tzitzis string around the others and retie the knots, but in the interim the tzitzis are kosher.

Jewish Labor

The person attaching the strings to the garment must be Jewish (Menachos 42a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 14:1). There was a major scandal a few years ago when unscrupulous manufacturers were discovered to have hired non-Jews to make tzitzis. Hopefully, this problem has been resolved, but one should check that the tzitzis have a reliable hechsher. Based on shaylos I have been asked, I have discovered that many people are unaware that children’s talisim kotonim must also be reliably kosher.

By the way, it is preferable that women not be the ones who insert the tzitzis strings onto the garment and tie them, since women are absolved from fulfilling this mitzvah (Rama, Orach Chayim 14:1 and commentaries).

How Many Coils?

The number of coils between the knots is a matter of custom. (Based on the Arizal’s tradition, common practice is to coil the thread seven times between the first two knots, eight between the next two, eleven between the third and fourth, and thirteen times between the fourth and fifth knots.

To recap, we twist the longer string around the others and tie the tzitzis strings into knots in a way that creates five knots and between them four areas of tightly coiled string that resemble a cable. Torah law requires only that we tie one knot and that there be some area of coiled string.

Hang Loose!

After completing the coiling and tying, the rest of the strings are allowed to hang freely. The free-hanging strings are referred to as the “pesil.” As I mentioned above, when making the tzitzis, the pesil should be at least eight fingerwidths long, which is about eight inches (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:14). However, if the strings become torn afterward, the tzitzis are still kosher, if even a very small amount of pesil remains – long enough to make a loop and knot it, which is probably about an inch (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 12:1).

Tear Near the Top

If the tzitzis strings become torn above the first knot, the tzitzis are invalid.

As I explained, tzitzis are made from four strings inserted into the garment, and then knotted and coiled. The Torah requires that each of these four strings be attached and hang from the corner of the garment and be included both in the gedil, the coiled part, and the pesil, the loose, hanging strings.

If the thread tore at the top, then it is no longer hanging from the corner of the garment, but held in place by the other threads.

Torn String

We can now explain whether tzitzis become invalid when the tzitzis strings are torn, which depends on where the strings tore. If only one of the eight strings tore and only below the first knot, then the tzitzis are still kosher. This is because all four of the original tzitzis still have both gedil, the coiled part, and pesil, the hanging part.

If two of the eight strings tore at a point that there is no pesil anymore, then whether the tzitzis are still kosher depends on whether these were part of the same original tzitzis string or not. If they were two sides of the same original tzitzis string, then the tzitzis are invalid, because one of the four original strings now lacks pesil. This is the reason why one should be careful to loop four of the strings together before beginning the coiling and knotting, since this helps keep track in case two or more strings tear, whether they are the two parts of the same string, which will invalidate the tzitzis if no pesil remains, or parts of two different strings, in which case the tzitzis are kosher, if the other end of the string still has pesil.

If a tear takes place somewhere between the first knot and the pesil, we treat the remaining part of that string as nonexistent since it no longer hangs from the garment, but is being kept in place by the coiling and knotting. Thus, if this happens to only one string of the eight, the tzitzis are still kosher, because all four original tzitzis still have some pesil. However, if this happens to two or more strings, one must be concerned that it was two sides of the same original string and the tzitzis may be invalid, because only three of the original strings now have pesil.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch notes that the root of the word tzitzis is “sprout” or “blossom,” a strange concept to associate with garments, which do not grow. He explains that the message of our clothing is extended, that is, sprouts and blossoms, by virtue of our tzitzis.

The introduction of clothing to Adam and Chavah was to teach man that his destiny is greater than an animal’s, and that his responsibility is to make all his decisions according to Hashem’s laws, and not his own desires. Introducing tzitzis onto a Jew’s garments reinforces this message; we must act according to what Hashem expects. Thus, whether we are wearing, shopping for, examining, or laundering tzitzis, we must remember our life’s goal: fulfilling Hashem’s instructions, not our own desires.

* All measurements in this article are approximate. One should check with a Rav for exact figures.

 




More on Chinuch

Question #1: His own Lulav?

father-and-son-with-lulav“Am I required to purchase for my son his own lulav?”

Question #2: Three-year old Tzitzis?

“At what age should my son start wearing tzitzis?”

Question #3: Minor Kohanim

“I know that one must be very careful that a kohen, even an infant, does not become contaminated with the tumah of a meis. Yet I rarely see a child under bar mitzvah duchen. Is this consistent?”

Question #4: Kiruv Kohanim

“We are in the process of being mekarev a fellow who is a kohen. He enjoys joining us for our family outings, and we love to visit museums. Could this present potential halachic issues?”

Answer:

In the beginning of parshas Tolados, the Torah mentions the birth and upbringing of Yaakov and Eisav. In what many consider the most controversial passage in his commentary on Chumash, Rav Hirsch criticizes the education that Eisav received. This provides an opportunity to continue our discussion on some of the aspects of the mitzvos of chinuch that we began a few weeks ago.

In this context, we find the following passage of Gemara:

“A minor who knows how to shake a lulav in the way that halachah requires is obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav; one old enough to put on a talis properly is obligated in tzitzis; if he is old enough to protect his tefillin, his father must purchase for him tefillin; when he knows how to talk, his father teaches him Torah and the Shma” (Sukkah 42a; see also Arachin 2b and Tosefta, Chagigah Chapter 1).

We see from the Gemara that we should begin teaching a child Torah and training him to observe mitzvos at the earliest age possible for him to perform the mitzvah correctly. One of the first lessons of mitzvas chinuch that we see here is that the mitzvah is not simply to demonstrate to a child a few times before his bar mitzvah how the mitzvah is performed. The mitzvah is to train him from when he begins to be able to perform the mitzvah properly, and we then begin to encourage him to observe the mitzvos. Thus, as soon as he begins to speak, we should have him recite pesukim. When old enough to wear a talis properly, we should train him in the mitzvah of tzitzis, and when old enough to perform the mitzvah of lulav properly, we should train him to observe that mitzvah.

Why are tefillin different?

When the Gemara mentions that a child should begin to observe mitzvos, it teaches that his father is obligated to purchase tefillin for his son, but it does not say that the father is required to buy either tzitzis or a lulav for his son. This implies that only in the case of tefillin is the father required to make a purchase, but not for the mitzvos of tzitzis or lulav. Why are tefillin different?

The answer is that someone cannot observe the mitzvah of tefillin properly without owning his own pair, and it is obvious that a child would not have the means with which to purchase tefillin. Therefore, the mitzvah of chinuch requires the boy’s father to purchase a pair of tefillin for him.

However, Chazal did not require the father to purchase the four species or tzitzis for his son. Why not? In the case of the four species, the son should be able to perform the mitzvah by using his father’s, and it is therefore unnecessary to require the father to purchase his son a set (Tosafos, Arachin 2b).

What about tzitzis?

Regarding the mitzvah of tzitzis, Tosafos rules that, even for adults, Chazal did not require one to purchase a four-cornered garment in order to fulfill the mitzvah. Rather, someone wishing to wear a four-cornered garment is required to have tzitzis attached to it. In the days of Chazal, one did not purchase a garment with tzitzis, or even purchase tzitzis threads to place on a garment. Clothing was made at home, and tzitzis threads, which require being manufactured for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah, were spun at home. Therefore, there was no requirement to purchase tzitzis for a child, but, that when the household provided all its members with home-made clothing, it provided the men-folk, including those under bar mitzvah, with four-cornered garments and spun tzitzis to attach to them (Tosafos, Arachin 2b).

“Protecting” tefillin

The Gemara rules that when a child is old enough to “protect his tefillin,” we should purchase for him a pair of tefillin. What does it mean that he is old enough to “protect his tefillin”? Some understand this to mean that he understands that he should not bring his tefillin into the bathroom (Rashi, Sukkah 42a). Others understand this to mean that he can keep a guf naki, meaning that he is old enough to be careful not to release flatulence while wearing tefillin, which is prohibited because of bizuy mitzvah, treating mitzvos with disdain (Rashi, Brachos 5b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 37:2). There is obviously a major difference between these two approaches: A fairly young child can be entrusted not to bring tefillin into a bathroom, whereas someone considerably older may still have difficulty maintaining control and awareness to remove his tefillin when he feels that his stomach is somewhat unsettled.

Contemporary practice

Following the second approach mentioned above, which is the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, common practice today is that we do not have a child wear tefillin until he is almost the age of bar mitzvah. This is because we are concerned that he will be unable to keep a guf naki. Therefore, we wait until the child is almost the age that he is required min haTorah to wear tefillin, and only then do we train him how to wear tefillin.

Minor kohanim

At this point, let us address one of our opening questions.

“I know that one must be very careful that a kohen, even an infant, does not become contaminated with the tumah of a meis. Yet I rarely see a child under bar mitzvah duchen. Is this consistent?”

This question needs to be dealt with as two different headings. The first topic is the prohibition of causing someone to violate a halachah. The second topic is understanding how the mitzvah of chinuch applies to the specific mitzvah of birkas kohanim. I will first discuss the topic of causing a minor kohen child to become tamei.

Causing someone to violate the Torah

It is prohibited min haTorah to be the direct cause of a child violating a prohibition of the Torah (Yevamos 114a). For example, providing a child with non-kosher food or bringing a minor kohen into a house that contains tumas meis causes the child to violate what the Torah says. The Torah prohibits doing this, even when the child himself is too young to be responsible to fulfill the mitzvah and is not commanded to observe it. As a matter of fact, this law applies min hatorah even to a newborn (Magen Avraham 343:2). It also applies even when a child is, unfortunately, being raised in a non-observant way. Therefore, it is forbidden for someone who has a babysitting job to feed a Jewish child non-kosher food, or to serve non-kosher food to a Jewish child in a school cafeteria. Similarly, it is prohibited to dress a baby in a blanket or clothes made of shatnez (Shu”t Beis Yehudah, Yoreh Deah #45).

Tumah is worse

In the particular instance of causing a kohen to become tamei, there is an additional violation, specific to this mitzvah. The Rambam rules that it is forbidden for someone to make an adult kohen tamei and, at times, this may involve violating a prohibition min haTorah (Rambam, Hilchos Aveil 3:5). The Rambam rules: “If the kohen is unaware that what he did is forbidden, and the person who made him tamei knows that it is, then that person violates the lo saaseh. If the kohen knows that it is forbidden, then the other person violates only lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol, do not place a stumbling block before a blind person (Vayikra 19:14).” Chazal interpret this pasuk to mean that one may not give someone bad advice, nor cause him to violate a prohibition.

Kiruv kohanim

Thus, we can now also address another of our opening questions. “We are in the process of being mekarev a fellow who is a kohen. He enjoys joining us for our family outings, and we love to visit museums. Could this present potential halachic issues?”

In a different article published in this column many years ago, I discussed at length the shaylos that exist concerning whether a kohen may visit a museum. (A copy of that article, entitled Finding a Compatible Place for an Extended Family Outing, is available on the website RabbiKaganoff.com.) Based on our current discussion, we are now aware that the same issues exist if I cause a kohen to enter a museum. Thus, taking a nephew who is a kohen on a family trip to a museum may involve the same halachic problem, and I should consult my rav or posek. Bringing our friend the kohen involves the same halachic issues, notwithstanding the fact that he, himself, has no concerns about the matter. As we saw above in the Rambam, it is actually a more serious problem for me when I know that the kohen is not concerned about the prohibition.

What if the child does it on his own?

The Gemara (Yevamos 113b-114a) relates that Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna lost the keys of the beis medrash in a reshus harabim, an area into and from which it is prohibited min haTorah to carry on Shabbos. Thus, there was no way to unlock the doors and use the beis medrash on Shabbos. Rabbi Pedas suggested that Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna bring some children to play in the area where the keys were lost, hoping that one of them might find the keys and bring them to the beis medrash. According to Rabbi Pedas, one is not obligated to prevent a child from violating a mitzvah of the Torah, provided that one does not ask or enable the child to do so. In other words, although it is prohibited to cause a child to violate a mitzvah, we have no obligation to prevent the child from violating a mitzvah, nor are we prohibited from placing a child in a place where he may choose to violate a mitzvah on his own.

The rishonim ask why the mitzvah of chinuch does not require preventing the child from violating Shabbos. Here I will present three widely-held approaches to answering this question.

Under age

One answer is that Rabbi Pedas’ rule that we are not required to prevent children from choosing to violate prohibitions applies only when they are very young — meaning that the child is below the age of chinuch, when we are required to educate him about the mitzvah (Tosafos, Shabbos 121a, s.v. shema). Thus, Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna brought only fairly young children to play in the area where the keys were lost. It would be prohibited, according to this approach, to cause older children who understand that we do not carry on Shabbos to carry the keys in a reshus harabim. This approach is quoted by the Rema (Orach Chayim 343).

Mitzvos Asei

A second approach to answer this question is more lenient, contending that the mitzvah of chinuch applies only to positive mitzvos, but does not apply to prohibitions (Rabbi Eliezer miMetz, the author of the Sefer Yerei’im, quoted by Tosafos Yeshanim, Yoma 82a; the same position is quoted by several rishonim to Yevamos 114a). According to this understanding, there are three levels:

  1. We are prohibited min haTorah from directly causing a child to violate a prohibition.
  2. We are required miderabbanan to train a child to perform mitzvos.
  3. There is no requirement at all to prevent a child from performing violations of the Torah that a child is doing on his own.

Isn’t this counterintuitive?

Is this approach not counterintuitive? In general, prohibitions are treated more strictly than positive mitzvos, and the punishments for violating them are usually more severe (Terumas Hadeshen #94). Why, in this instance, is the positive mitzvah being treated more stringently than the prohibition?

Some explain that the reason is because performance of a positive mitzvah usually requires more effort, and these mitzvos will be more difficult for him to observe when he becomes an adult. Therefore Chazal required the father to make certain that his child is habituated to perform mitzvos. They did not require chinuch on lo saaseh prohibitions, since they are passive (Terumas Hadeshen #94).

Only the father

I promised that I would share with you three approaches to explain how Rabbi Pedas permitted placing children somewhere where they will likely end up performing melachah activity on Shabbos. Is there not a mitzvah of chinuch?

A third approach to answer this question understands that when Chazal introduced the mitzvah of chinuch, they obligated the father, but no one else, to train a child to perform mitzvos. Since other people have no obligation of training a child to perform mitzvos, they are permitted to place a child somewhere where he may, of his own volition, violate a prohibition (Tosafos Yeshanim, Yoma 82a; Rambam, Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 17:28). This last approach is the one followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 343:1), who writes: “If a child is eating non-kosher, beis din is not commanded to prevent him, but his father is commanded to rebuke him and prevent him.” The Rema cites this opinion also.

Remember, as we taught above, that all opinions prohibit directing a child to violate a prohibition. What is permitted is placing him in a position where he will, of his own volition, violate a prohibited activity.

In conclusion, we are prohibited from causing a male child to become tamei from contact with a corpse. According to the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, you are not obligated to prevent a child from making himself tamei, unless the child in question is your son.

What about duchening?

At this point, let us return to the question raised above: “I know that one must be very careful that a kohen, even an infant, does not become contaminated with the tumah of a meis. Yet I rarely see a child under bar mitzvah duchen. Is this consistent?” Now, that we have explained the background to the first part of the question, let us discuss the second part: Our questioner reports not seeing many minor kohanim perform the duchening.

The Mishnah (Megillah 24a) states that a child does not duchen, which Rashi explains is  because it is not respectable for a congregation to have a child bless them. Our question is whether the Mishnah means that a child should never duchen, or does it mean that he should not duchen when he is unaccompanied by an adult kohen? The issue being debated is whether the lack of dignity for the tzibur is any time a child is blessing the congregation or only when he does so by himself.

This issue is the subject of a dispute among early rishonim. Rashi (Sukkah 42a) rules that a child should never duchen, whereas Tosafos contends that it is fine for a child to duchen, as long as he does so together with adult kohanim (Tosafos, Megillah 24a s.v. Ve’ein). According to the latter opinion, it would follow that there is a mitzvah to train a minor kohen to duchen, just as there is a mitzvah to train him to perform other mitzvos. However, according to Rashi, since Chazal ruled that it is not a kavod to have a child duchen, then, clearly, there is no mitzvah of chinuch to train him to duchen. There were many places in Europe where the custom was to follow Rashi in this law. This is why our questioner has rarely seen a minor duchen. However, this is by far not a universally held practice. I have been in many places where I have seen kohanim who are under bar mitzvah duchen alongside adult kohanim.

Conclusion – Avraham and chinuch

We now know that there are specific halachic rules directing us how to educate and train  children in the observance of mitzvos, and also about our interactions that might cause an adult to violate a prohibition of the Torah. It is interesting to note that the only verse in the Torah that uses the word chinuch in relation to people is in parshas Lech Lecha, and there the verse refers to training and teaching adults to perform mitzvos. There the Torah teaches about Avraham that, in order to save his nephew Lot, vayarek es chanichav, literally, he emptied out those whom he had trained. As Rav Hirsch points out, the situation of saving Lot required Avraham to change direction from what he had been doing heretofore to develop his following to serve Hashem. Prior to this point, Avraham had taken his following, his disciples, and moved them away from civilization, into the mountains, so that they would not be influenced by the nearby social environment of Canaan, which was antithetical to proper values. Avraham’s previous chinuch had involved isolationism to grow the spirituality of his students. At this moment, serving Hashem required Avraham to expose his following to improper mores, albeit only temporarily, for the sake of saving Lot.

 




Can We Identify the Techeiles?

Parshas Shelach includes the mitzvah of wearing techeiles on our tzitzis. Rashi, in the beginning of Parshas Korach, mentions that the followers of Korach donned garments that were completely techeiles. Therefore, whether we are in a place that reads Shelach this week or one that reads Korach, it is appropriate to read about:

Can We Identify the Techeiles?

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When we are commanded about wearing tzitzis, the Torah includes two mitzvos. In addition to the mitzvah of wearing tzitzis threads on the corners of the garment, there is an additional mitzvah that some of the tzitzis threads should be dyed with a special dye called techeiles. (There is a dispute among the Rishonim how many of the tzitzis threads are to be dyed techeiles.) This dye must be made from a species called chilazon (Tosefta Menachos 9:6).

Although the use of techeiles stopped over a thousand years ago, there have been a few attempts within the last 140 years to reintroduce the practice of wearing techeiles threads alongside the white threads. This article will present the differing opinions on this question and some of the issues that have been raised.

At the time of the Gemara, the nature of chilazon and its manufacture was still known and practiced (see Menachos 42b). However, some time after the period of the Gemara, the use of techeiles ended. By all indications, techeiles fell into disuse sometime between the end of the period of the Rabbonim Sabora’im, who completed the editing of the Gemara around the year 4330 (570), and the time of Rav Ahai Gaon, the author of the She’iltos, around 4520 (760).

It is unclear why the Jewish people stopped using techeiles. Numerous theories have been suggested why wearing techeiles ended. The wording used by the midrashim is “now we have only white tzitzis, since the techeiles was concealed” (Medrash Tanchuma, Shelach 15; Medrash Rabbah, Shelach 17:5). Some poskim understand that there are halachic or kabbalistic reasons why techeiles should not be worn until moshiach comes (Shu”t Yeshuos Malko #1-3). According to this opinion, the Medrash means that the source of the techeiles was concealed and it is only to be revealed in the future at a time when Hashem again wants us to wear it.

Other poskim disagree and contend that we should still attempt to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing techeiles on the tzitzis. They explain that the Medrash means that techeiles became unavailable. Rav Herzog zt”l, who followed this approach, speculated that persecution by anti-Semitic governments ended the production of techeiles. Still another possibility is that the knowledge how to produce the techeiles was lost, or that there was no longer availability or access to the chilazon, the source of the techeiles.

The Radziner Rebbe’s research

In 5647 (1887), the Radziner Rebbe, Rav Gershon Henoch Leiner, zt”l, published a small sefer, Sefunei Temunei Chol, wherein he discusses the importance of fulfilling the mitzvah of wearing techeiles even today. In his opinion, the Medrash quoted above means that techeiles became unavailable. The Radziner encouraged wearing something that might be techeiles even if it is uncertain that one is fulfilling the mitzvah. In his opinion, one who is wearing questionable techeiles should do so, because he may be fulfilling a mitzvah min hatorah. Thus, he contended that if he could identify a species that might be the chilazon, and he could extract a dye from it, one should wear tzitzis that are dyed with this product.

The Radziner himself analyzed every place in the Gemara where the word chilazon is mentioned, and defined what characteristics would help us identify the chilazon. Based on his analysis, he drew up a list of eleven requirements by which the chilazon used for techeiles can be identified. Among other requirements, these included that the chilazon would be located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea; that it is a marine animal and not a fish; that it must be able to live on land, at least for a brief period of time; that it produces a black ink and that it must have fins, bones, and sinews. The Radziner concluded that if one located a marine animal that meets all eleven requirements, one can assume that it is the chilazon.

Having completed his halachic research, the Radziner then began his scientific research to identify the chilazon. He traveled to Naples, Italy, the location of a major aquarium and marine research institute, to study marine animals that would meet all the requirements of techeiles. In Italy, he decided that the cuttlefish, which in many languages is called an inkfish, is indeed the chilazon from which one produces techeiles. The cuttlefish meets every one of the Radziner’s requirements for chilazon, including that it emits a dark dye, which is the reason why it is called an inkfish. The cuttlefish is not a true fish and is capable of living on land for brief periods of time.

The Radziner then published his second volume on the subject, Pesil Techeiles, in which he announced his discovery of the chilazon and his proofs why the cuttlefish meets all the requirements of the chilazon. Subsequently, the Radziner published a third volume, Ein Hatecheiles, whose purpose was to respond to all the questions he had been asked concerning what he had written in his previous volumes.

Reaction to the Radziner’s proposal

Although the Radziner had presented his case in an extremely convincing manner, most of the Gedolei Yisroel did not support his theory. The Radziner attempted to convince the poskim of his era of the validity of his approach, particularly, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector of Kovno, the Beis Halevi (then the rav of Brisk), Rav Yehoshua Kutno (author of Yeshuos Malko), the Maharil Diskin (who had been rav of Brisk and was living in official retirement in Yerushalayim), and Rav Shmuel Salant (the rav of Yerushalayim). None of these rabbonim accepted the Radziner’s proposal. Their reasons for rejecting his proposal are significant.

Rav Yehoshua Kutno and Rav Yitzchok Elchonon disagreed with the Radziner because they both held that the Medrash quoted above should be understood literally — techeiles has been placed in genizah until Hashem again wants us to observe this mitzvah. Rav Yehoshua Kutno suggests several reasons why this happened, which are beyond the scope of this article.

Others were opposed to wearing techeiles because of sources in the writings of the Ari and other mekubalim that we are not to use techeiles until the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, bimheira beyameinu. The Radziner did not agree with their interpretation of these sources.

An additional objection was raised against the Radziner’s position that one should wear questionable techeiles since one might be fulfilling the mitzvah. This is based on the poskim who contend that one who places on a white garment blue tzitzis that are dyed with a dye other than techeiles is not yotzei the mitzvah of tzitzis. Therefore, it is preferable to wear white tzitzis if one is uncertain (see Rema, Orach Chayim 9:5).

There were also objections to the Radziner’s conclusions on other grounds. Some objected to his choosing a non-kosher species as the source of the techeiles, since there are early poskim who contend that the techeiles must come from a kosher species. This subject is an old dispute, which can be traced back to the time of the rishonim and early acharonim.

Others contended that the color of the Radziner’s techeiles was wrong, since Rashi seems to indicate that the color of techeiles is green. However, it should be noted that the word yarok that Rashi uses can also mean gold, yellow or blue, as indicated by numerous sources in Chazal and rishonim. (Many of the sources as to whether the correct color of techeiles is green, blue or black are discussed in the article by Dr. Zvi Koren, which I refer to later in this article.)

The Beis Halevi’s approach

The Beis Halevi took issue with the Radziner on the basis of mesorah, but there is a dispute as to exactly what was his objection. The way the Radziner quotes the Beis Halevi, his concern was that the species identified by the Radziner was well-known, and, if it indeed was the correct source, this mesorah should not have been lost.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichek of Boston, himself named for the Beis Halevi, wrote a different understanding of the Beis Halevi’s opinion. He contends that we cannot identify the chilazon on the basis of research. When the Torah requires a specific type or species to fulfill a mitzvah, one cannot fulfill this mitzvah without a mesorah that this is the correct object with which to perform the mitzvah. Attempting to identify the type or species on the basis of research, analysis, or proofs will not help; nothing can be substituted for mesorah. Thus, no matter how compelling the evidence is that a specific species is the chilazon of techeiles, one will not fulfill the mitzvah of wearing threads dyed with this color. When Eliyahu Hanavi returns as the precursor to the mashiach, he will identify for us the mesorah he received from his rabbei’im and thereby we will be able to identify the proper techeiles.

The Maharsham

There was one gadol who considered the merits of the Radziner’s position. The Maharsham, Rav Shalom Mordechai Schvadron, rav of Bruzan, wore a talis with the Radziner’s techeiles, although apparently he did so only in private. However, in the final result, only the Radziner’s own chassidim and some Breslever chassidim wore the techeiles that the Radziner introduced.

Rav Herzog’s research

More than twenty years after the Radziner’s passing, Rav Yitzchak Isaac Herzog (who became the first Chief Rabbi of Israel several decades later) researched the source for the techeiles. He wrote up this research as his doctoral dissertation.

In his analysis of the halachic issues involved, Rav Herzog accepted most of the Radziner’s opinions and interpretations. However, there are some aspects of the Radziner’s approach with which Rav Herzog took issue. Whereas the Radziner assumed that every place in the Gemara where it refers to chilazon, it means the chilazon that was used in making techeiles, Rav Herzog assumes that chilazon means a sea snail, and not necessarily the snail used in making the techeiles. (By the way, in Modern Hebrew, Ben Yehudah decided to use the word chilazon for snail, rather than the original Hebrew word, shavlul.) Thus, in Rav Herzog’s opinion, not all of the Radziner’s requirements in determining the species for the techeiles are accurate. Therefore, Rav Herzog focused on analyzing the numerous species of sea snails for the most likely candidate to produce techeiles.

Rav Herzog took issue on one major point of the Radziner’s research. Rav Herzog took samples of the dye recommended by the Radziner as techeiles and had them chemically tested. Based on results that he received from the laboratories, Rav Herzog concluded that the blue color that results from the Radziner’s method of producing techeiles is not caused by anything in the cuttlefish ink. The chemists he consulted contended that the color is an artificial dye named Prussian blue, which is created by the chemicals added as part of the processing. In Rav Herzog’s opinion, since he could not discern anything in the cuttlefish that causes the blue coloring, he reached the conclusion that the cuttlefish is not the source of the techeiles. There are answers how the Radziner might have responded to this concern, but it is inappropriate for others to speak on his behalf.

In his dissertation, Rav Herzog analyzed various sea snails, concluding that none of them fit as sources for the techeiles. Apparently, decades later, Rav Herzog was still grappling with which species might be the correct source.

It should be noted that all the poskim who disagreed with the Radziner’s proposal would disagree with Rav Herzog’s proposals – the reasons that they rejected the inkfish would also apply to a sea snail.

Many scientific researchers have suggested that the species of sea snail currently called Hexaplex trunculus might indeed be the source for techeiles. (Since most people who write on this topic usually refer to this species by its earlier name, Murex trunculus, I will use the latter term.) It is curious that this is one of the species of sea snail that Rav Herzog considered. Most people who today have their tzitzis dyed blue are using an indigo color derived from Murex trunculus.

Nevertheless, there are strong technical objections to this. Some of these arguments might be resolved based on a brilliant article published recently by Professor Zvi Koren in Tradition. However, in Professor Koren’s opinion, both the method used to extract dye from Murex trunculus and the color used is erroneous, and is certainly not the proper color of techeiles.

We note that the method currently used to process the dye from the Murex trunculus cannot be the correct method of dyeing techeiles threads, as performed by our ancestors, for the following reasons:

  1. The current method of extracting dye from Murex trunculus involves removing a gland from the snail, which would involve the melacha of gozeiz, removing part of a living creature. (According to many poskim, one violates this also by removing part of a creature that has died.) Clearly, this could not have been the method of removing the dye from chilazon in earlier days, as can be proved from the Gemara (Shabbos 75a), since no mention is made of this prohibition in the Gemara, although it mentions other prohibitions that are transgressed in the capture and processing of the chilazon on Shabbos.
  2. Another objection is based on the fact that it can be demonstrated from the Gemara that the removing of the dye liquid from the chilazon kills it, although one would prefer that the chilazon remain alive for as long as possible. However, in the process used to remove the dye from Murex, the snail can remain alive for several hours after the process is complete.
  3. A third problem with the current method of using Murex trunculus dye requires an introduction. At the time of the Gemara, there were unscrupulous individuals who sold threads dyed with a coloring called kla ilan. This coloring is not kosher as techeiles, and someone wearing it on his tzitzis would not fulfill the mitzvah of wearing techeiles. According to the Aruch, kla ilan is indigo, a vegetable dye that has a blue color. Thus, the Gemara was concerned about someone selling indigo-colored threads as techeiles threads to an unsuspecting buyer. The Gemara describes a test that can be used to check whether the threads are kla ilan or techeiles, by testing the threads for colorfastness: kla ilan would fade, whereas techeiles would remain fast. However, the dye used currently by Murex trunculus enthusiasts is chemically identical to indigo. How, then, can a chemical test for colorfastness be used to determine what was the source of the indigo?
  4. The Rambam describes that the “blood” that is the source of the techeiles is black when removed from the chilazon. The gland extract removed from Murex trunculus is clear when it is removed and changes color afterwards.

Obviously, I am not the first one to note these difficulties with the process of extracting dye from Murex trunculus. However, the responses I have seen to answer these questions are very tenuous.

We see that there has been a significant amount of research about the source of techeiles and the possibility of fulfilling this mitzvah in our day. Due to the above mentioned considerations, those who follow the approach of the majority of the poskim of earlier generations and wear only white tzitzis have a substantive basis in halacha.




Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, an Appreciation

Why do some people who keep cholov Yisroel use products made with regular powdered milk?

Can I wear a talis koton made out of nylon?

May one build an eruv around Manhattan?

These and thousands more shaylos were asked of the rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, whose yahrzeit is on the 21st of Kislev.

First, I will provide a brief biography of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, zt”l, followed by a discussion of some of his piskei halachah.

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank was born in Kovno, Lithuania (then part of Russia), on the 4th of Tishrei, 1873 (5634). Kovno was a city full of talmidei chachamim, including Rav Tzvi Pesach’s father, Rav Yehuda Leib Frank. Rav Yehuda Leib had studied in the Volozhin Yeshiva for many years and, after his marriage, his wife supported the family while he continued to learn. As a youth, the young Tzvi Pesach outgrew the town’s melamdim at a young age and he continued to learn by himself in the shul, among married men much older than he.

Rav Tzvi Pesach’s early years were enriched by the contact he had with Rav Yisrael Salanter, who visited Kovno periodically to give shiurim, as well as by contact with Kovno’s rav, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector. He later studied in the yeshivos of Rav Itzele Rabinowitz, known in Yeshivah world as Rav Itzele Ponovitcher, and in Telz, where he learned under Rav Shimon Shkop and Rav Leizer Gordon.

In 1892, Rav Yehuda Leib, Rav Tzvi Pesach’s father, decided that the time had come to move to Eretz Yisroel. He was particularly concerned for the welfare of his two older sons, Tzvi Pesach and Tanchum, who were in danger of being drafted into the Russian army. The two boys were therefore sent to the Holy Land ahead of the rest of the family. Rav Tzvi Pesach and Tanchum, together with a cousin, arrived in Yerushalayim in the fall of 1892.

Three years after he came to Yerushalayim, Rav Tzvi Pesach married. Two years after his marriage, several students of the Alter of Kelm, Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, opened a Beis Mussar in Yerushalayim, and Rav Tzvi Pesach joined it. The Beis Mussar developed a kollel, where Rav Tzvi Pesach continued to grow in his learning.

THE YERUSHALAYIM BEIS DIN

The first Ashkenazi beis din in Yerushalayim was established in 1841 by Rav Shmuel Salant, the city’s rav. In 1907, Rav Tzvi Pesach, who had already begun teaching in Eitz Chaim Yeshiva, was appointed to the Yerushalayim Beis Din. He was to serve on this beis din until an advanced age, and from the start he was a well respected and astute dayan. When the Rabbonim and Beis Din of Yerushalayim organized the first modern Otzar Beis Din for Shevi’is in 5670 (1910), Rav Tzvi Pesach was one of the dayanim who signed as a member of the Beis Din.

He was a dayan and a poseik in Yerushalayim for over 50 years, the rav of Yerushalayim for 36 years, and a member of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate in Eretz Yisroel since its inception. In all these capacities, Rav Tzvi Pesach led and guided Klal Yisroel, teaching them what the Torah expected, even in the most challenging situations.

In the difficult years of World War I, he would not let hunger or worry distract him from learning. Quoting the sefer Akeidas Yitzchak, he said, “When a person is found in a situation of poverty, he will be able to learn and grow in Torah.” Following this teaching, Rav Tzvi Pesach gave shiurim and clarified halacha, even when there was no food to be had. He would sacrifice a bit of oil from his daily diet in order to learn by lantern, at night. When he lacked even this oil, he would learn by moonlight.

The Jews of Eretz Yisroel, and the rest of the world, rejoiced when the British captured the country from the Turks. The Balfour Declaration, which promised the Jews that Israel would become their national homeland, gave new hope to the war-weary people.

Anticipating new waves of aliya, Rav Tzvi Pesach began encouraging roshei yeshiva in Europe to move their yeshivos to Eretz Yisroel. Eventually, Rav Tzvi Pesach’s efforts bore fruit, and the Slobodka Yeshiva (under the leadership of Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein and Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel) moved first to Yerushalayim and then to Chevron, while the rosh yeshiva of Slutzk, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, moved to Yerushalayim.

DEVELOPING THE HOLY LAND

In the years following World War I, the Chief Rabbinate was established in Eretz Yisroel. It was viewed with mixed feelings by the religious community. Rav Tzvi Pesach joined the organization with the hopes that it would represent the Torah beliefs on different aspects of life in Eretz Yisroel. In 1918, he became the head of the Yerushalayim Beis Din.

Rav Tzvi Pesach’s love for Eretz Yisroel knew no bounds. He encouraged the creation of agricultural settlements, particularly among frum Jews, and he was always pained by the sight of settlements that did not keep the halachos pertaining to the Land properly. The way to improve the situation, he believed, was to increase the awareness and knowledge of these halachos.

In a letter, he explained his position clearly: “We must establish regular shiurim on these halachos, as our master and teacher, the gaon Rav Yisrael Salanter, wrote in his letter of mussar — the most exalted and fundamental cure…for the wiles of the evil inclination is to learn the Gemara and poskim on the subject vigorously and with great depth….”

Rav Tzvi Pesach also encouraged the purchase of Jewish products over non-Jewish products.

RAV OF YERUSHALAYIM

In 1935, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook passed away, leaving the positions of rav of Yerushalayim and chief rabbi of Eretz Yisroel vacant.

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank was considered the best candidate for these positions. However, when he was approached with the request that he fill the roles, he declined the offer. He felt that the job of chief rabbi would involve too much time that could better be spent learning. In the end, he agreed to become the rav of Yerushalayim, but not to accept the rabbanus of Eretz Yisroel, which was eventually filled by Rav Herzog.

One of the most difficult things that Rav Tzvi Pesach had to contend with was chillul Shabbos. There had been virtually no chillul Shabbos in Yerushalayim prior to World War I, so the desecration of Shabbos in the holiest city on earth pained him terribly. He tried to minimize it, however he could.

In the days of the British Mandate, Rav Tzvi Pesach wrote letters to the British rulers, begging them to enact a law against public Shabbos desecration. He wrote them that his goal was not to compel every individual to observe Shabbos, but that he wanted stores to be closed and that the Hebrew radio hour should not be broadcast on Shabbos.

WAR AGAIN

In 1939, World War II broke out, bringing with it the destruction of European Jewry. Rav Tzvi Pesach, in Yerushalayim, organized days of prayer and fasting on behalf of the Jewish people. He urged his fellow Jews to improve their service of Hashem, in the hope that this would avert disaster. In a letter, Rav Tzvi Pesach wrote comfortingly, “For the Jews, a day is composed of night and then day. For non-Jews, a day is a day and a night. Why is this so?

“The main realm for Jews is the World to Come. Therefore, darkness precedes the light, and we consider a day to begin with the night and end with the day. Non-Jews, however, enjoy only this world, and afterwards they will be in darkness. They experience first day, and then night.”

LEADER OF A FLOCK

Later, as the fledgling country of Israel began to develop, organizing its government, army, industry, economy, education and health care, Rav Tzvi Pesach emerged as one of the, and perhaps the foremost, halachic authorities of his generation. He answered numerous shailos on technology, medicine and industry, covering every subject from powdered eggs to hydroponics.

At this point, let us examine some of his well-known halachic positions:

POWDERED MILK

Those who allow use of non-chalav Yisroel powdered milk follow the opinion presented by Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank. Rav Frank assumed that the halacha follows the Chasam Sofer, who requires Jewish supervision to permit non-Jewish milk, and did not accept the heter of the Pri Chodosh (Yoreh Deah 115:15), who understands that one needs to be concerned about chalav akum only when the non-kosher milk is less expensive than the kosher variety, nor the heter of the Igros Moshe and the Chazon Ish that the takanah did not specifically require that a Jew attend the milking, but that it is permitted when one is completely certain that there is no admixture of non-kosher milk (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:47). Nevertheless, Rav Frank permitted powdered milk from an unsupervised gentile source for a different reason.

The poskim permit using cheese that is gevinas Yisrael and butter (I explained  both these topics in other articles), even when these products were made from unsupervised milk. Why did they permit this? Because non-kosher milk is low in casein; it does not curd, which is the first step in producing cheese; and it is also low in milk fat (also called butterfat or cream), which makes it non-profitable to make butter from non-kosher milk.

Rav Frank notes that there is a significant qualitative difference between cheese and butter, on the one hand, and powdered milk, on the other, in that there is an inherent problem with making cheese and butter from non-kosher milk, whereas one can powder any milk. Thus, one could argue that the leniency that applies to cheese and butter should not apply to milk powder, as indeed the Chazon Ish concludes.

However, Rav Frank quotes the Ritva (Avodah Zarah 35b), who pointed out that, technically, one could make cheese even from non-kosher species, but the cheese yield from these milks is very poor, and when the milk curds, most of it becomes whey. Thus, although it is theoretically possible to make cheese or butter from non-kosher milk, the halacha does not require one to be concerned about this. Rather, one may assume that a gentile would not adulterate this milk.

Rav Frank concludes that what permits the unsupervised milk used in cheese and butter is not that it is impossible to use non-kosher milk for this process, but that it is unlikely. Thus, he reasons, although one could powder non-kosher milk, the prohibition of chalav akum was limited to fluid milk and other products available in the days of Chazal which could easily be made from non-kosher milk. Since powdered milk did not exist in the days of Chazal, and since we are certain that standard, available powdered milk is of bovine origin, the prohibition against chalav akum does not apply to milk powder, just as it does not apply to butter and cheese.

NYLON TZITZIS

Another responsum authored by Rav Frank (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:9) discusses whether one fulfills the mitzvah of tzitzis with a four-cornered garment made of nylon. He discusses whether nylon should be comparable to leather, which is exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. Rav Frank concludes that leather is not obligated in tzitzis, because it is not woven. He then notes that there are two types of nylon garments, one made from woven nylon thread, which he rules would be required to have tzitzis, and one made from sheets of nylon, which are not woven and are therefore absolved from the mitzvah of tzitzis, just as leather is.

DRINKING BEFORE YOUR ANIMALS

Why should drinking be permitted before one feeds one’s animals when it is forbidden to eat, and, according to many authorities, even to have a small snack? Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:90) provides two reasons for this distinction. First, suffering from thirst is far more uncomfortable than suffering from hunger, so the Torah did not require one to remain thirsty in order to make sure that the animals are fed. Second, the Torah forbade eating before feeding one’s animals out of concern that once one gets involved in eating, he may forget to feed his animals. Drinking does not create this concern, since it takes less time.

COTTONSEED OIL ON PESACH

Rav Pesach Frank (Sefer Mikrai Kodesh, Hilchos Pesach vol. 2 pg. 206) permits the use of cottonseed oil on Pesach, and quotes that Rav Chayim Brisker permitted its use. Cottonseed is not a food at all and, also, does not grow in any way similar to grains, unlike canola that grows similar to the way grains grow. However, Dayan Yitzchak Weiss of the Eidah Hachareidis writes that he is uncertain whether cottonseed oil may be used on Pesach. He cites sources that the prohibition against kitniyos includes any item stored the way grain is stored and forbids eating any seeds, grains, or anything derived from them (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 3:138:2 and 4:114:3). As a result, many hechsherim in Eretz Yisroel, for example, the Eidah HaChareidis, treat cottonseed oil as kitniyos, whereas the prevalent practice in the United States allows it.

DESTROYING A FRUIT TREE

Here is another psak of Rav Frank:

“We just moved into a new house, and the only place where we can put a sukkah is in an area which is shaded by a fruit tree. May we chop down the tree, in order to have a place to build our sukkah?” Rav Frank analyzes the topic and is inclined to be lenient, reasoning that the performance of a mitzvah cannot be considered a destructive act. He concludes that one should have a gentile remove it, but not as an agent for a Jew (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim II #102).

ERUV IN MANHATTAN

Rav Menachem Kasher asked Rav Frank whether one could build an eruv in Manhattan. Rav Frank answered that he was not in a position to answer the question specifically, but that, in general, he was in favor of the concept (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim II #24). In this particular psak, he followed a position that was disputed by many of the famed poskim and gedolim of the New York area, including Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Aharon Kotler, both of whom published teshuvos to the contrary.

Rav Frank’s teshuvos tend to be on the short side, and are written by explaining the sources of the halachos involved and the basis of his psak in a very clear way. He does not quote many later sources, but, rather, explains clearly how to understand the central issue of the topic and prove why the approach he is following is correct.

Always learning, always clarifying halachos — to his last days, Rav Tzvi Pesach remained the leader of his people in Yerushalayim and the rest of the world. He passed away on 21 Kislev, 1960 (5721), after over half a century of dedicated learning and serving the Klal.