A Great Principle in the Torah

The mitzvot of “Love your fellow as yourself” and “Do not hate your brother” are the basis of human relations, as well as relations with God * Love and responsibility for others expands in cycles – first, the nuclear family, after that, friends and second-degree relatives, and so on * The mitzvah of love extends to all people, even from other nations, but among Jews, everyone should feel as though they are family * A person offended by his friend should admonish him, but respectfully and without creating greater contempt * A Coronavirus wedding: Should the skipped celebration be made up for after the quarantine?

Love your Fellow as Yourself

In this week’s second Torah portion, Kedoshim, we come across the mitzvah of which Rabbi Akiva said “zeh clal gadol baTorah” (it is a great principle in the Torah), namely, ve’ahavta le’reacha ke’mocha (love your fellow as yourself) (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9: 4). In a similar fashion, we have learned from Hillel HaZaken (Hillel the Elder) that when a person came looking to convert to Judaism and asked him to teach him the entire Torah on one leg, he said: ‘What is hateful to you, don’t do to someone else – the rest of the Torah is all commentary on that idea. Now, go and study’ (Shabbat 31a).

The mitzvah “Love your fellow as yourself” appears along with another mitzvah lo ta’aseh (a negative commandment) which complements it, as the Torah says: “Do you hate your brother in your heart … and love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17-18).

Why It Is a Great Principle in the Torah

These mitzvot are general and fundamental because in practice, the majority of a person’s life occurs in his relationship with his family, friends and neighbors, and thus, a person’s basic attitude toward others is the central foundation on which most mitzvot one meets in his life, rests. If these are the guiding mitzvot in one’s life, it turns out he fulfills Torah and mitzvot the majority of the time.

Moreover, the mitzvot between man and God are also dependent on these commandments, because a person who doesn’t love his friends and is not careful about hurting their feelings – is someone who is occupied only with himself, and in a way, lives in a self-absorbed bubble. The breakthrough out of narrow egoism into the realms of emunah (faith) is accomplished by means of ahava (love), in which one identifies with another, and desires only good things for him, just as he wishes for himself. In so doing, his little egocentric bubble is breached, he begins to think about the world around him, and is able to connect to the vision of Tikun Ha’Olam (rectification of the world) according to the guidance of Torah and mitzvot.

Definition of the Mitzvah

In practice, it’s impossible for someone to know every other Jew and express love for him. Consequently, the love and responsibility for others expands in cycles: in the inner circle, husband and wife; in the surrounding circle, first-degree relatives; after that, friends and second-degree relatives, followed by neighbors, and so on. If this is the case, then what is the meaning of the mitzvah “love your fellow as yourself” towards all Jews? The answer is that one should desire the good of every Jew, just as he wishes for himself. For example, if he comes across a Jew in trouble and can help – he should do so, just as he would want others to help him if he was in trouble.

The meaning of the prohibition of “Do not hate your brother in your heart” is that a person should not wish something bad happens to someone else, even if he doesn’t say, or do it, in practice. And anyone, who, out of his great hatred for someone does not speak to him, or even say hello, transgresses the prohibition of sin’ah (hatred).

Between Israel and the Nations

The mitzvah of ahava extends to all human beings, despite the differences in opinions, religions, and nations (Midot HaRaya, Ahava 10). But amongst Jews, each one of us should feel as if the other Jew is his brother, and consequently, the love and responsibility for him is of a higher and more binding degree.

In addition, it is forbidden to hate a fellow Jew, even if he is a sinner; although he should be rebuked for sinning, and sometimes even punished, it is forbidden to utterly hate him, just as family members should feel a sense of brotherhood even towards a sinful brother. However, towards a non-Jew who chooses to be evil, one may treat him with hostility and hatred.

The Dignity of Man Created in the Image of God

In the opinion of Ben Azzai, there is an even greater principle than “love your fellow as yourself,” specifically, the dignity of man stemming from the great responsibility placed upon him having been created in the image of God, as it is written: “This is the book of the Chronicles of Adam: On the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God” (Genesis 5:1; Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4). The meaning of an image and a likeness, is that man has free choice, and like God, has the ability to change his and the world’s situation for the better, or for the worse. In addition, this principle of human dignity applies equally to all people, of all nations.

The Gateway to God’s Revelation in the World

In spite of the importance of the principle dealing with man’s dignity and responsibility, the accepted position among Jews is that the principle “love your fellow as yourself” is more important. This is because in addition to being the foundation for the majority of mitzvot man encounters in his life, through it, man breaks the barrier of his selfishness, and merits revealing his inner image of God. When a person encounters his friend out of love, helps him in his hour of trouble, and rejoices with him in his times of joy, the image of God within his friend is reflected upon him, and as a result, his own soul begins to shine as well, and he is able to achieve emunah and connect with God. The mitzvot between man and his fellow, guide us to this.

In addition to this, along with the revelation of the unique independence of every human stemming from the dignity of man – division, competition, and war between individuals was created. The rectification for this is by means of the mitzvah ‘love your fellow as yourself’, and this is the great challenge facing people: to lovingly reveal the inner unity between them, whose foundation is based in the One God who created and gives life to everything, and to show how through emunah, ahava, and just collaboration, blessing is drawn to all from the Divine Source.

Someone Offended by His Friend Should Admonish Him

One of the mitzvot that complements the mitzvah of ‘love your fellow as yourself’ is the mitzvah of tochacha (admonishment). The idea of the mitzvah is that a person who is offended or hurt by his friend needs to admonish him, so that his friend understands his words or deeds have hurt him, and so they can put their good relationship in order, as the Torah says (Leviticus 19:17): “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him…love your fellow as yourself. I am God” (Rambam, Hilkhot De’ot 6:6). But if he conceals his insult, there is concern he will not be able to stop himself from hating his hurtful friend.

Since the goal is to rectify, rather than denounce or condemn, the reproach should be said respectfully, with care not to cause his friend unnecessary insult or grief. Occasionally it turns out that the friend did not intend to hurt or offend, and after knowing his behavior was hurtful – asks for forgiveness and is careful not to do it anymore, and consequently, it was unnecessary to be angry with him, rather, only to reprove him gently and lovingly. And at times, it turns out that the insult was based on a mistake, and if someone needs to be offended – it is the friend, and accordingly, the person who comes to reprove should apologize for being mistaken, and needlessly suspecting his friend. Therefore, someone who admonishes has to say it with reservation, along with willingness to hear his friend’s reply.

Even when the person who is hurt is certain his reproof will not help, because this friend is always rude and hurts others, it is a mitzvah for him to respectably admonish him, because there is always a certain chance what he says will penetrate his friend’s heart. And even if he rejects the admonishment, it is likely to assume that if everyone he offends talks to him about it, over time, he will improve his ways.

Lo Tikum ve Lo Titur (Do not Take Revenge Nor Bear a Grudge)

The prohibitions of nikimah (revenge) and nitirah (bearing grudges) also complement the mitzvah of ‘love your fellow’, as it is written (Leviticus, 19:17-18): “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your fellow as you love yourself. I am God.”

Our Sages explained (in Sifra, ibid.): “How far does the “power” of revenge extend? If one said to another: ‘Lend me your sickle, and he did not lend him, and the next day the other said to him: Lend me your spade, and he answered: No, just as you did not lend me your sickle.’ Therefore, it is written: Do not take revenge…How far does the “power” of grudge-bearing extend? If one said to another: Lend me your spade, and he did not lend him, and the next day the other said to him: Lend me your sickle, and he answered: Here it is; I am not like you, who did not lend me your spade.’ Therefore, it is written: Do not bear a grudge.”

Seemingly, this is difficult to understand, since a person is required to reprove a friend if he hurt him, so why in the prohibition of bearing a grudge is it forbidden to remind him that yesterday he refused to lend him something? However, if the goal is to improve their relationship, and out of love he says to his friend “I am happy to help you, and I would be happy if you could also lend me things when possible,” saying so is not prohibited at all — the exact opposite – it’s a mitzvah. The prohibition “do not bear a grudge” is to insult a friend, and by saying “take a look – I’m not like you,” he really means: “Take a look at how miserable a miser you are – after you refused to lend me your spade yesterday, you have the nerve to ask me today for a sickle? But I won’t sink to your level, I’ll let you use the sickle. Go take a look in a mirror, and see what a nasty person looks like…” Consequently, the prohibition of ‘do not bear a grudge’ is no less severe and insulting than the prohibition ‘do not take revenge.’

If this is the case, how should one react? The best thing to do is to reproach the friend with love and friendship in order to prevent resentment from developing between them. And it’s preferable to do so before his friend needs to ask him for a favor, because at such time, reproach is liable to hurt his feelings. And if despite the importance of the mitzvah to admonish, a person prefers to avoid it – either because he is embarrassed to do so, or because he fears his reproach will aggravate the situation – he must scratch the affront from his heart, because since he did not admonish his friend, he has no right to resent him. Nevertheless, he is permitted to decide in his heart that it’s better for him to somewhat distance himself from his friend so as not to get hurt, but it is forbidden for him to act in a hostile way, or to ignore him. If they meet by chance – he should say hello, and if he asks for a favor – he should help him amiably.

Compensating for an Omitted Celebration after the Quarantine

Q: Is it possible to compensate a groom and bride who had to get married in a limited framework due to the quarantine?

A: With God’s help, when the quarantine is over, as long as the couple is within the first year of their wedding, their family and friends may arrange a feast in their honor, and in the zimun before Birkat HaMazon, they should add “Sheh Ha’Simcha Bi’m’ono” (‘in whose abode there is joy’) and if there are ten men, they should bless “Niverech Elokeinu Sheh Ha’Simcha Bi’m’ono” (‘Let us bless our God in whose abode there is joy’) [Ketubot 8a]. True, it is written in the Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha’Ezer 62:13): “Nowadays all joy is granted and we do not say “in whose abode there is joy” except in the sheva ya’mey ha’mishteh (seven days of the banquet).” However, when they could not rejoice properly during the sheva ya’mey ha’mishteh, the joy can be compensated for during the first year (see, Pitchei Teshuva 20). Kal ve’chomer (all the more so) in our days when joy has started to return through the building of the Land.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

At the Core of Ritual Purity and Impurity

Understanding all the secrets of purity and impurity in this week’s Torah portion is beyond our reach, nevertheless, we can still find deep meanings in them * Most of the practical implications of purity and impurity do not apply without the Beit HaMikdash; only in Jewish homes, in the love between husband and wife, is the sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash revealed to a certain extent * In the aftermath of the first man’s sin, the world fell from its high level; consequently, all joy is accompanied by pain and sorrow, and love is liable to fade * The days of abstention between husband and wife purify, strengthen, and enhance the love between them * When Tikun Olam is completed, there will be no need for crises as a lever to uplift us, and impurity will be done away with

Taharah (Ritual Purity) and Tumah (Ritual Impurity) in Married Life

With the kindness of God, during these days of isolation I began writing the laws of Taharat HaMishpacha (family purity), and since the end of this week’s Torah portion Metzora deals with the mitzvot of tumat and taharat nida (impurity and purification of a menstruating woman) and ziva (an unnatural emission from the genitals), and the beginning of the Torah portion Tazria deals with the tumat and taharat of a yoledet (a woman who gave birth), it is worth studying the meaning of these mitzvot.

This type of tumah has two aspects: one – the prohibition of marital relations and intimacy, the other – about the laws of the Mikdash and its sanctity, namely, that it is forbidden for someone who is tameh to enter Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount) and eat the meat of the korbanot (animal sacrifices). In addition, throughout the country the Kohanim (priests) had to eat the terumot (tithes) and challah (a portion of bread) given to them by their fellow Israelites in purity, and those who separated the tithes, had to make sure not to defile them. Since the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, the possibility of being purified of tumat met (impurity due to “contact” with the dead) by means of efer parah adumah (ashes of the Red Heifer) was annulled, as well as Kohanim eating terumot and challah in purity. Only within Jewish homes, in the love between husband and wife, is the sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash revealed to a certain extent in the laws of tumah and taharah pertaining to the laws of marital relations and intimacy – in order to direct, uplift, and sanctify the couple’s love.

Understanding Taharah and Tumah

The root of the mitzvah of taharah and tumah lies in the heights of the secret place of the Most High, in the Divine idea beyond our attainment, and therefore we will never be able to fully understand the significance of these mitzvot. Nevertheless, out of our emunah (faith) of knowing that God has given us all the mitzvot to sanctify us, and to grant us favor and blessing, as the Torah says, “God commanded us to keep all these rules, so that we would remain in awe of God for all time, so that we would survive, even as we are today” (Deuteronomy 6:24). And although we cannot explain the reason why God gave us these mitzvot, we can grasp from them deep meanings.

In general, taharah is associated with life, and tumah with death. The more highly developed a life form is, the greater the level of death is in its loss, and consequently, the greater the tumah as well. Therefore, man, who reveals the highest level of developed life, the tumah of his death is the most severe. A less severe degree of tumah is tumat nevelah (the uncleanness of an animal that died as a result of any process other than valid ritual slaughter) or sheretz (vermin). Plant life is less developed, thus, there is no tumah in its end, however, if man made from the plant life utensils or clothing, or grew from the plant fruits or vegetables – they can receive tumah.

The Womb – The Source of Life

The womb is the source of life and taharah of all human beings, and thus in contrast, it is also a source of tumah. Tumat nidah is when the egg that could have developed in the uterus into an embryo was not fertilized, lost and died, and came out in the menstrual bleeding along with the mucosa that was intended to help create life. The tumah of shichvat zera (spilling of seed) is also an expression of this – this sperm could have given birth to life, but was lost and died; albeit, its tumah is of a lower degree of impurity (Kuzari 2: 60-62). Incidentally, the womb is occasionally called by our Sages kever (a grave), for example, in the case where a fetus died, and an abortion was performed (Nida 21a).

Since the Sin of Adam Rishon

In the aftermath of the sin of Adam Rishon (the first man), the entire world fell from its high level, and death and tumah appeared in the world. Man was punished in that his livelihood entails sadness and sorrow, till the day he dies and returns to the earth. Even family life, marital relations, and births entail sadness and sorrow, as it is written: “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly increase your anguish and your pregnancy. It will be with anguish that you will give birth to children. Your passion will be to your husband, and he will dominate you’ (Genesis 3:16). Our Sages interpreted: “‘I will greatly increase your anguish and your pregnancy’ – this refers to the two drops of blood, one being that of menstruation and the other that of virginity, to the pain of bringing up children, and the pain of conception” (Eruvin 100b). In other words, tumat nidah and ziva perpetuated from the sin of a Chava (Eve)… because before the sin, all women were deserving not to see veset nidah (menstruation) and ziva, rather, were taharot without blood” (Tzror Hamor, Torat Chatat 69).

The Tikun in the Mitzvot of Tumah and Taharah

In the aftermath of the sin, the world was shattered and filled with flaws and shortcomings. As a result, along with the joy of all the good in the world, everything is accompanied with sorrow and sadness. No man can fill his mouth with laughter in this world, and there is no joy without crises and pain. If a person tries to ignore the pain and shortcomings, he will fall, and crash with greater pain. Thus, human awareness of the punishment Adam and Chava received for their sin, and the pain and sorrow that accompany life, are the key to driving the process whereby they are able to gradually repair the fracture, until they finally reach a higher level than at first. This is because the virtue of baalei teshuva (those who repent) is greater than that of tzadikim gemorim (the completely righteous), because out of knowledge of the world’s peaks and abysses, they choose the good. The mitzvot of tumah and taharah give expression to the shortcomings, and pave the way for their repair.

The Renewal of Love, and the Internalization of Marital Values

The decline that occurred in the world in the aftermath of the sin also impaired a couple’s ability to express their love limitlessly, and maintain its vitality from fading and dying. That is why so many couples get divorced, or are left without love. The physical manifestation of the crisis and sadness accompanying life and love is the blood of nidah and birth, and ultimately death. By fulfilling the halakhot of tumah and taharah, we give the sadness that accompanies our lives an appropriate place and learn to deal with it, and thereby give room for love to grow and develop gradually, until the completion of the tikun in Olam HaBa (the World to Come). As such, Rabbi Meir explained: “Why did the Torah ordain that the uncleanness of menstruation should continue for seven days? Because being in constant contact with his wife, a husband might develop a loathing towards her. The Torah, therefore, ordained: Let her be unclean for seven days in order that she will be beloved by her husband as at the time of her first entry into the bridal chamber” (Nidah 31b).

The Mitzvah’s Ability

Any wise and honest person will agree that a fixed period of abstention is the most successful way to keep the fire of love between a couple burning. But without the mitzvot of the Torah, a man is powerless to meet this difficult task. We are unable to claim that this is the explanation for the mitzvah because the full meaning of the Divine mitzvot are beyond our comprehension; but since we know that all the mitzvot are for our benefit in this world, and the World to Come – it is incumbent upon us to reflect on the good we receive by way of the mitzvot. As well as the longing that renews love, during the days of abstention and longing, a husband and wife can also discard with the bad character trait of lack of appreciation – taking the good things in their lives for granted – and out of recognizing the good, they learn to be truly generous towards one another.

Permissible Days

Thus, from month to month, the days of abstention purify, strengthen, and enhance the love between a couple, until they reach middle age – then menstruation ceases, and their love becomes deeper and more binding, and they no longer have need for tumat ha’nidah to enhance their relationship. In the future, with the completion of the tikun, as we learn to ascend from one level to the next, and reveal in the Torah and the neshama (soul) endless new meanings, youth will be renewed, and life enhanced. Then crises will no longer be needed as a lever for uplifting, and the curse of death and its tumah will be eradicated. To a certain extent, this is what happens during the days of pregnancy and nursing, which, thanks to the upsurge of life created by them, their love also receives profound vitality that intensifies free of abstention.

Impurity of Childbirth and Its Purification

At the beginning of the Torah portion Tzaria, we learn that at the time of the birth, a woman becomes unclean. If she gave birth to a male child, she is unclean for seven days, and at the end, even if she continues seeing blood, she immerses herself in a mikveh, and is purified. Thus she remains ritually clean to her husband despite continuing to see blood until the end of forty days from birth, for all the blood that flows from her body until the end of the fortieth day is blood of purity. And after the fortieth day, she returns to her usual state, namely, if she sees blood, she is unclean. And if she gave birth to a female, her impurity and purification are double – her impurity lasts for two weeks, and after that, she is ritually pure until the end of the eightieth day from birth. During all these days, it was forbidden for a woman who gave birth to enter the Beit HaMikdash, and upon her completion, she would bring a korban olah (burnt offering) to give thanks for the birth, and a korban chatat (sin offering) for the shortcomings embraced in her birth. In this manner she may enter the Mikdash.

The Meaning of Impurity of Childbirth

In every lofty idea that descends to this world, there is a certain aspect of falling and death. The same holds true for every birth – the hopes leading up to the birth are endless. One’s heart is inclined to believe that after the miracle of birth, the entire world will change for the better – the new child will be perfect, wonderful and happy, wise and healthy, and in his day, the Redeemer will come. In reality, after birth we fall into the routine of life – the pain, and the exhaustion. The baby will also have to face challenges and crisis like all humans. The mother’s body feels it as well, and this is the depression that sometimes accompanies maternity in the postpartum period. The tumah related to birth expresses the sorrow for the hopes and dreams that will not come to fruition, but the blood of the birth itself is not impure, since it is blood that emerges with the birth of a new life. In the first stage, the tumah is more severe. It expresses the mother’s emptying of her dreams, and the fall of the fetus from the wonderful world in its mother’s womb, into this world, with all its sorrow and tears. In the second stage of blood of purity, the tumah is less severe, and it expresses the middle stage, in which life intensifies along with the recognition that they are accompanied by difficulties and crises, which only through coping with them, can progress be made towards the fulfillment of all dreams. Therefore at this stage, from the din (law) of Torah, a woman is not forbidden to her husband, but she is forbidden to touch sacrificial flesh or enter the Mikdash. And according to Jewish custom, since marital relations are also sacred, all prohibitions are practiced in this stage as well.

The Difference between the Birth of a Male and a Female

It can be said that the difference between giving birth to a male and a female, is that the tumah and tikun of the male is more evident – the tumah is expressed in the orlah (foreskin), and the tikun in Brit Milah (circumcision), and the whole process is shorter. In contrast, in the birth of a female, the tumah and taharah are hidden and deeper, and consequently, last twice as long. And just as the tumah expresses a more difficult fall, correspondingly, the tikun is also greater.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

An Opportunity to Free Ourselves from Bondage

In these days of isolation, we have an opportunity to break free from the enslavement restricting us * It seemed that modernity had rid us of epidemics, but now it turns out that precisely advancement, globalization, and economies are under threat * Chametz alludes to man’s ability to develop the world and all year round it is desirable; but on Pesach, we must return to the foundations of faith * Isolation gives us an opportunity to make the most of the mitzvah “teach your children” * It is also an opportunity to re-design our lives, to recognize our own enslavement to a certain standard of living or a specific area of ​​residence, and leave them for spiritual, family, and economic freedom

Pesach in Times of Crisis

Humanity is presently dealing with a new/old enemy – a virus threatening the lives of numerous people, along with worldviews that have guided them. It seemed that modernity had already rid us of such epidemics, but as it turns out, the ones under threat are precisely the developed countries that promised their citizens prosperity, and built elaborate economic systems. The overcrowded cities and globalization are what accelerated the spread of the epidemic.

Every crisis dismantles, and gives rise. Institutions, factories, and businesses that were not succeeding in any event – will fold, and new ones will emerge. However, not everything that grows out of a crisis is good. It depends on choice, and choice depends on inner will. When the inner will is good, things built are good in any case. And this is exactly the idea of Pesach – to re-establish the foundations of emunah (faith) in our consciousness, and by doing so, emancipate ourselves from all unnecessary dependences, so we can grow from the strength of redemption from Egypt, to the future Redemption.

The Meaning of the Prohibition of Chametz

Chametz (any one of the five species of cereal grains that came into contact with water and fermented) alludes to man’s ability to take raw material, enhance, and develop it. Throughout the year this attribute, by means of which man, created in the image of God, participates in the development and improvement of the world, is very positive. However, God gave us the holiday of Pesach so we can return to the foundations of emunah, and to do so, we must be extremely cautious about any trace of chametz.

The foundation of emunah is that God created the world and determined its purpose, and that the roots of all things depend on Him alone. Although God gave man the ability to improve and develop the world, this is limited to manipulating and developing the outgrowths of the root elements of creation; man has no power over the root elements, which are divine creations. God created the world and mankind, chose the people of Israel to be His Am Segula, His treasured nation, and it is He who gave humanity the quest to be moral, and to Israel, His Torah. Anyone who mixes petty human thoughts into the foundations of emunah, harms them greatly.

This is hinted at in the prohibition of chametz. By means of biur chametz (disposing of chametz), we are able to reach the holiday of Pesach and Seder night, designed to instill in us the foundations of emunah, namely, that the world has a Creator, that He watches over His creatures, and that He chose the people of Israel to reveal His name in the world. Whenever a Divine foundation is revealed in the world, it appears in a completely miraculous fashion, to indicate that it is not a human endeavor. Thus, the Exodus was accompanied by signs and wonders, to publicize that the choosing of Israel was a Divine matter. Similarly, the Torah was given with evident miracles, to a generation that lived miraculously for forty years in the desert, so as to make known that this was an absolute Divine matter. In other words, we internalize the fundamental principles of emunah – we do not invent them. Whoever mixes some human aspect into these basic principles of emunah is guilty of idolatry. This is alluded to in the Zohar’s statement that chametz on Pesach is idolatry (Vol.2:182:1).

May it be that out of assimilating the foundations of emunah, all our endeavors emerging out of the crisis will be constructive.

The Significance of Eating Matzah

Matzah is the opposite of chametz; it symbolizes our humility toward Heaven, and therefore, it must remain simple and thin throughout its baking process, without rising. By fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzah, we internalize the emunah first revealed at the Exodus from Egypt. Matzah comes to remind us of faith, and is therefore called meikhla de-mehemnuta, the “bread of emunah” by the Zohar (Vol.2:183:2). By eating matzah on the Seder night with the proper intent, one achieves emunah, and by eating matzah all seven days of Pesach, that emunah is firmly implanted in one’s heart (Pri Tzadik, Ma’amerei Pesach 9). Since matzah signifies faith, it is understandable that its entire manufacturing process must be performed with extreme care.

“Teach Your Children” In Times of Isolation

The central mitzvah on the Seder night is to convey to our children the foundations of the faith of Israel: they must know how the nation of Israel was formed, that God chose Israel to be His special nation, and that He gave them a special duty to receive the Torah, and rectify the world. Parents, of course, do not live forever. The next generation will have to bear the torch of tradition, the great and awesome task that God intended for Israel, until the world has been fully repaired. This is the lesson of the Seder night. Since children’s characters differ from one child to another, the Torah clarifies the way in which parents should convey the Seder’s legacy to children in four forms – to four different types of sons. The Seder night should act as a model for the entire year, namely, that education should be tailored to a child’s unique character.

Due to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, parents often find it difficult to spend a significant amount of time to talk to their children, to identify each child’s uniqueness, and nurture and direct them in their own special way. These days of isolation afford us an opportunity to broaden the enlightenment and inspiration of Seder night over entire weeks, from which we will emerge better.

The Goal: A Life of Faith and Blessing in the Land of Israel

In order to fully understand the mission of the Jewish people, which we want to convey during Pesach and Seder night, we must consider the question of the wise child, and the answer he receives according to the Torah (Deuteronomy 6: 20-25).

The wise child poses a detailed question, as it is stated: “When in the future your child asks you, ‘What are these testimonies, laws, and principles that the Lord our God commanded you?’” The answer initially addresses the Exodus from Egypt, but then broadens to include the overall purpose of the Jewish people: to come to Eretz Yisrael, to adhere to God, to fulfill all of His mitzvot, and to earn His benevolence:

“Say to your child, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. God brought great and terrible miracles and demonstrations upon Egypt, Pharaoh, and his entire household before our very eyes. He brought us out of there in order to bring us to, and give us, the land He promised to our forebears. God commanded us to keep all of these laws, to fear the Lord our God, for the sake of our everlasting benefit, so that He might sustain us as we are today. And it shall be considered our virtue to observe and perform all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He commanded us.’”

We see, then, that the aim of Seder night is to impart to our children, by telling the story of the Exodus, the desire to belong to the people of Israel, to inherit the Promised Land, to adhere to God, and to fulfill all of His mitzvot.

Freedom from Bondage

During these days of isolation, in which our movement is restricted, we have the opportunity to free ourselves from distractions, to contemplate about our lives, re-program them, and free ourselves from all the dependences restricting us. Some people are dependent on a standard of living, to the point where it seems to them that if they earn a little less, their world will collapse. In truth, however, if they spent thirty percent less than they usually do, they would simply return to the way they lived twenty years prior. For the race to buy a more expensive apartment, car, clothing and entertainment, it is worth giving up so many principles – on dreams of dedicating more time to Torah study, giving ma’aser kesafim, helping others, and the like? There are people who live in a location unsuitable for them, but because they are enslaved to their habits, they pay huge sums of money for their apartment which eats up a significant percentage of their income – not realizing that the location is unbefitting for their family and spiritual aspirations, and for their children’s education. Perhaps as a result of the isolation they will be able to free themselves, to choose to move to one of the high-quality communities in Judea and Samaria, and thus, all at once, improve their spiritual, family, and economic standard of living, and become partners in the grand mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel).

Torah for Its Own Sake Bestows Freedom

The Torah gives a person the ability to be free, and consequently, the continuation of the Exodus from Egypt is Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah). As our Sages said: “For man is never freer than when he occupies himself with the study of Torah” (Avot 6:2). This is because only by the absolute and eternal word of God can man be freed from the bondage to his inclinations and public opinion.

But the truth must be told: only a straightforward study of Torah can make a person free, whereas a twisted type of study can make a person more enslaved to warped conceptions and false notions. As our Sages said: “What is the meaning of the Scriptural verse: ‘And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel’? — If he merits, it becomes for him a medicine of life, if not, a deadly poison” (Yoma 72b). They also said, ” Whoever occupies himself with the Torah le’shma (for its own sake), his learning becomes an elixir of life for him, for it is said, ‘It (the Torah) is a tree of life to those who grasp it’; and it is further said, ‘It shall be as health…’; and it is also said, ‘For whoever finds me, finds life. But, whoever occupies himself with the Torah not for its own sake, it becomes a deadly poison for him” (Taanit 7a).

What is Torah Study for Its Own Sake?

The meaning of Torah study le’shma, is to fulfill the aim of the Torah – to add goodness and blessing in the world, and as we were instructed to teach the wise Son on Seder night: ” He brought us out of there in order to bring us to, and give us, the land He promised to our forebears. God commanded us to keep all of these laws, to fear the Lord our God, for the sake of our everlasting benefit, so that He might sustains us as we are today” (Deuteronomy, ibid.). Some people are enslaved to a distorted Torah belief, according to which a person who wants to be a tzadik (righteous) must alienate himself from science and work, and live in poverty. Such an attitude is sometimes necessary in galut (exile), but to continue it in Eretz Yisrael? God forbid!

On this Chag Ha’Herut (Festival of Freedom) – it should be for the good – we have the opportunity to free ourselves from bondage to this limited concept.

The Land of Israel

When Torah study is done out of alienation to the nation and the land, regrettably, it becomes lo le’shma (not for the sake), and becomes a deadly poison. After all, the entire purpose of Yitziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt) was to enter Eretz Yisrael, as written: “I have come down to rescue them from Egypt’s power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3: 7). In Eretz Yisrael, one must work and fulfill the Torah and mitzvot, and by doing so, merit blessing and prosperity, and be an example to all peoples of the world who will say about the nation of Israel, that it is wise and understanding in all the sciences, walks in the ways of God, and God helps them to rectify the world in the kingdom of the Lord.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

This is How We Prepare the Kitchen Ourselves

Since this year it is impossible to make use of a central, public kashering of utensils or have our kitchen kashered by others, we must do it ourselves * In order to do so, one must learn what is halachically necessary, without chumrot and hidurim difficult to perform in the house * Guidelines for kashering the oven, pots, cutlery, and other kitchenware according to halakha, by household means

The General Rule of Kashering: Ke-Bole’o Kakh Polto

This year we will not be able to make use of a central kashering to perform libun of stovetop grates, and hagala of pots. There are also people who usually have others help them kasher their kitchen for Pesach, and this year they will have kasher it themselves. Therefore, it is necessary to study the halakhot of kashering the kitchen and utensils for Pesach as required by halakha, without chumrot and hidurim that are difficult to do at home. The references to “Peninei Halakha – Pesach” are for the new edition of 5780 [2020] (found on the website of ‘Yeshiva Har Bracha’, and can be downloaded in the app). Let us begin clarifying the general rules.

The basic rule in the laws of kashering utensils is “ke-bole’o kakh polto” (a forbidden taste is released from the utensil in the same manner that it was absorbed). That is, the utensil should be kashered in the way it was used b’issur (in a forbidden manner) or with chametz. There are three forms of use: 1) with fire, whose kashering is done by heavy libun (heating the vessel by fire until it gives off sparks or becomes red hot). 2) With hot liquids – whose kashering is done by hagala in boiling water. This, too, has different levels: the use of a kli rishon (the vessel in which the food is cooked) on a flame, a kli rishon removed from the flame, liquid poured (irui) from a kli rishon, kli sheni (hot food that was first cooked in a vessel over fire and then transferred to a different one), and ke-bole’o kakh polto. 3) With liquids that are not hot, in which case it is enough to clean them in cold water to kasher them.

A Utensil Used on Two Levels

A spoon that sometimes absorbed chametz in a kli rishon on a flame and sometimes in a kli sheni is kashered according to its most intense absorption, namely, in boiling water on a flame. However, when this is difficult or can cause damage, we go according to its usual use. For example, a fork that is usually used in a kli rishon or sheni whose kashering is done in boiling water, but sometimes the fork is stuck in a baked good while in the oven where its absorption is with fire – since libun is liable to damage the fork, we go according to ikar ha’din (strict law), and the fork is kashered according to it predominant use, in boiling water (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 10:7).

Cleaning the Kitchen and the House

There is a huge difference between cleaning the house for Pesach and cleaning the kitchen. In cleaning the house, the goal is not to leave a crumb of chametz the size of a ke’zayit (olive), in order not to transgress the prohibition bal yera’eh (“no chametz of yours shall be seen”) and bal yimatzei (“no se’or of yours shall be seen within all your borders”) [Shemot 13:7], whereas in the cleaning of the kitchen and its utensils, the goal is not to leave even kol she’hu (the slightest amount) of chametz, lest it get mixed into Pesach foods. And as known, chametz on Pesach is forbidden even kol she’hu. And when it comes to utensils used to cook with, one must make sure there are no remains of the taste of chametz absorbed in utensils, or any residual chametz stuck to them.

Countertop and Sink

Thoroughly clean the marble countertop and the sink, and then pour boiling water on them. It is convenient to do this with a kumkum (kettle). Before pouring boiling water on a sink or countertop, it must be dried well, so that the boiling water touches it directly and is not cooled by any cold water on its surface. For this reason, one must first pour the boiling water on the sink and then on the countertop, starting with the areas closest to the sink and moving further away, so that the water will flow to the sink rather than the places that have not yet been kashered. Instead of pouring boiling water on them, the marble countertop can be covered with linoleum or aluminum foil and a plastic basin placed in the sink, or covered with thick aluminum foil. Those who are stringent do both – they pour boiling water on the countertop and sink, and then cover them with linoleum or thick aluminum foil (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11: 1).

Fragile marble countertops, on which boiling pots are never placed, le’chatchila (from the outset) can be kashered by merely cleaning and pouring boiling water on them, and even the mehadrim (those who go a step further) need not cover it with linoleum or aluminum foil.

Kashering Grates, Burners, and Stovetops

Throughout the year, people usually use the same stovetop grates for both meat and milk, because even if some meat or dairy food spills onto them, the flame incinerates and befouls whatever has spilled. However, people customarily perform light libun on such grates for Pesach, because of the severity of the chametz prohibition. In ordinary years, many people are mehadrim, and do this by means of burners supplied at public kashering stations, but this year the kashering may be done by cleaning the grate, returning it to its place, and turning on all the flames for about fifteen minutes. Those who wish to go a step further, wrap aluminum foil around the bars on which pots sit. Be’di’avad (a level of performance that ex post facto satisfies an obligation in a less-than-ideal manner), if the grates did not undergo libun, the foods cooked on them on Pesach are kosher (as is customary all year round for meat and milk). The areas of the grates that do not come into contact with the pots, the enamel cook top beneath the grates, and the burners must be cleaned well of all residual food (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11: 2).

Electric Ranges and Ceramic Burners

Electric ranges and ceramic burners should be thoroughly cleaned, and run on the highest setting for about fifteen minutes.

Kashering a Baking Oven

To kasher an oven, clean it thoroughly and run it at its highest setting for half an hour.

Le’chatchila, we go according to the machmirim (stringent poskim) and do not kasher baking trays, because in their opinion, libun must be done at a temperature of about 400 degrees Celsius, and in such heat, the trays are liable to warp and have their appearance damaged. Therefore, those who do not have special Pesach trays may use disposable oven trays, and kasher the racks along with the oven, in order to place upon them the disposable oven trays (ibid. 11:3).

In extenuating circumstances the oven trays can be kashered for Pesach by heating the oven for half an hour, relying on those poskim who are of the opinion that utensils do not need to undergo libun at 400 degrees Celsius, rather, it is enough to do libun with the heat they have been used with (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11:5).

Self-Cleaning Ovens

Ovens that self-clean at a temperature of 500ºC need not be cleaned before kashering because such intense heat is considered heavy libun and is sufficient to kasher the oven for Pesach.

Barbeque

The body of the barbecue and its rack should be kashered as it is used, which is a level of heavy libun. If it is a gas barbeque – do so on the highest level of heat, or if used with coals – the largest amount of coals normally used.

Microwave

There are three steps to kasher a microwave oven: 1) cleaning it thoroughly of any residual food resulting from spillage or vaporization; 2) in order to kasher it from vapors and moisture of chametz in a manner of ke-bole’o kakh polto – heat a container of water in the microwave for approximately ten minutes (since microwave ovens absorb chametz via vapor that rises from food as it is heated); 3) Since chametz may have spilled onto the plate of the microwave, the plate should be cleaned and immersed in boiling water, or by placing something as a separation between the plate and the food that will be heated in the microwave on Pesach. (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11: 5).

Dishwasher

The filter, where residual food often gets stuck, must be cleaned thoroughly. Then the dishwasher should be run at its hottest setting, so that any absorbed chametz is released, ke-bole’o kakh polto, and in this way, it is kashered (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11: 5).

The Dining Table

Our tables are sensitive and people usually don’t place hot pastries or boiling pots on them, therefore kashering is done by thoroughly cleaning them with a damp cloth, according to it predominant use. Since occasionally a hot chametz sauce splashes on a table, and sometimes a hot pastry is placed on it, it is correct to be careful not to eat it on a table without a tablecloth that will separate between the table and the food.

There are mehadrim who tape a nylon or paper covering on the table, fearing that the tablecloth placed on the table will slip off, and by taping them create a permanent buffer upon which the tablecloth is spread. If this is a table on which dough is occasionally kneaded, a permanent separation must be taped or placed on it.

A table on which no hot chametz foods were placed throughout the year and dough was not kneaded upon it, it is enough to clean it well, and there is no need to cover it (ibid. 11:6).

Refrigerator

Since refrigerators are used with cold food, the only concern is that some chametz crumbs might remain there. Therefore, their kashering is done by cleaning. In hard to reach places where chametz crumbs may have gotten stuck, one must pour soapy water or some other substance that will befoul the crumbs and render them unfit for animal consumption.

Kitchen Cabinets

When kitchen cupboards were made of natural wood, they often had cracks and crevices that were difficult to clean completely of chametz that got stuck there, thus, the custom was to line them with paper. However, in smooth shelves like those used today, there is no concern that chametz remains. Therefore, once they have been cleaned properly, they need not be covered.

Kashering Cutlery

In these days when pots and cutlery cannot be kashered in public hagalat kelim, which are needed to kasher chametz utensils for Pesach that have been used with a kli rishon on the fire, the kashering must be done at home.

To do this, take a large clean pot, whether it be a chametz pot, or a Pesach pot. Boil water in it, place in the water a bit of liquid soap to damage its taste, and any utensil one wishes to kasher – is placed in the boiling water for about three seconds.

Le’chatchila, the custom is to rinse the utensils in cold water immediately after hagala, but if for some reason it is difficult to rinse a utensil with cold water, one need not make an effort to do so.

If a utensil cannot be immersed in its entirety into the water, it can be immersed one half at a time (ibid. 10: 11).

Kashering Pots

The hagala of a pot should be done in a large vessel in which all of the pot can be inserted. It is not enough to boil water in the pot, because most likely during the year food over-flowed or splashed on the rim of the pot, and consequently, the taste of chametz is absorbed and stuck to the upper lip of the pot, and the pot rim is not kashered by the boiling water inside the pot.

When the handles of the pots can be disassembled, there are mehadrim who take them apart and clean them. Instead of this, one can clean around them with a lot of soap, until it is clear the taste that may be in the grooves is nifgam (fouled), and then, immerse the pot. Pots with metal folding edges do not need special care.

If one cannot find a vat large enough to immerse the pot, boil water in a small vessel, and when the water in the large vessel begins to boil, insert the small vessel into the center of the larger vessel. This will cause the water in the larger vessel to overflow and kasher its rim and outer walls. It is also possible to boil water in a kumkum at the same time, and when the water inside the pot starts to boil, pour the boiling water from the kumkum into the pot, so that the boiling water in the pot will spill over and kasher its rim. The lid of the pot should be rotated in the boiling water, forward and back, until each portion of it is in the boiling water. In addition, the pot handles should be cleaned thoroughly with soap, and boiling water poured on them (ibid. 11: 12; 10: 9).

Frying Pan

Clean well and kasher it with light libun, by heating it on the gas fire in the same heat as it is used when frying (ibid. 10: 4-5).

Glassware

Many Sephardim follow the lenient opinion that glass utensils may be kashered simply by rinsing them thoroughly, whereas many Ashkenazic Jews do not kasher glass utensils for Pesach. In practice, however, the ikar seems to be the middle opinion, which maintains that glass utensils have the same status as metal utensils, whose kashering is done by immersing them in boiling water. Those whose families’ minhag is to be lenient, are permitted to continue in their minhag. And those whose families’ minhag is to be stringent, it is appropriate for them to continue in their minhag (ibid. 11:12).

Various Utensils

Warming Tray (Shabbat Plata): Clean thoroughly, heat on highest setting for one hour, and those who act stringently, also cover it with aluminum foil to separate between it and Pesach pots (ibid. 11: 4).

Electric Water Heaters for Shabbat and Kumkum: The custom is to do hagala because chametz crumbs may have fallen into them. Hagala in this case means filling the device to the top with water, boiling it, and then pouring it out through the faucet or opening used to dispense the water. Before hagala, it is good to clean out the stone deposits that accumulated inside. If one puts challah loaves on the lid of the urn to warm them before the Shabbat meal, the lid should be immersed in boiling water.

Coffee Machine: Clean and heat the machine as usual with hot water on the highest heat.

Silver Goblets: It is customary to perform hagala on silver goblets used for kiddush wine and other hard drinks, because crumbs sometimes fall into the goblet along with these strong drinks, which, according to some poskim, causes their taste to be absorbed into the goblet. Since this is a remote concern, when necessary, it is enough to wash them according their predominant use.

Plastic Baby Bottle and Pacifier: It is better to replace them, but when necessary, they may be kashered by cleaning and pouring boiling water on them.

False Teeth: These should be cleaned thoroughly before the onset of the chametz prohibition. They need not undergo hagala, because people do not normally put boiling foods or liquids in their mouths; just as they are used for both meat and dairy when cleaned in between, they may also be used on Pesach.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

Opportunities in Days of Seclusion

These days when lifestyles are changing against our will, it is an opportunity to examine our habits and arrange life properly according to Torah principles * On these Sabbaths, when we are not praying in public, and are at home for long periods of time, it is proper to be more careful than usual to dedicate time to Torah study * For those who are unemployed these days, it is appropriate to study Torah even during weekdays, thus, utilize their time and even strengthen their spirit * There is no justification for canceling women going to the mikveh these days, as long as preparations are done at home – but cancelling minyans is justified and even preferable

The days of seclusion forced upon us are an opportunity for each one of us to clarify for ourselves, the truths we have become accustomed to by rote. Now that lifestyle is changing, habits are inadequate; we must return to the foundations of Torah and mitzvot, and organize and arrange life in accordance with them. At the same time, we can dispense of unnecessary and bad habits, and adopt better ones. For example, evaluating the state of our children and their studies, seeing they are praying and studying properly, supplementing school work, and finding new learning challenges that will inspire them. As a result, when the days of seclusion are over, we will be able to continue growing wonderfully. Shabbat is one of the important foundations we have an opportunity to strengthen.

Preparations for Shabbat

It is a mitzvah to prepare on Friday for Shabbat, so that we can properly honor and take delight in it (oneg Shabbat), as it is written: “But on the sixth day, they prepare what they have brought in” [Shemot 16:5] (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 2:2).

It is a mitzvah to honor Shabbat, as it is written: “Call Shabbat ‘delight,’ the Lord’s holy [day] ‘honored’” (Yeshayahu 58:13). Part of honoring Shabbat is making sure that one does not dress on Shabbat as he would during the week (Shabbat 113a). Some authorities write in the name of Arizal that it is best not to wear anything on Shabbat that one has worn during the week. One who is spending Shabbat alone, and all the more so when in the intimacy of family, should still dress up, no less than any other Shabbat, because the clothes are not meant to honor the people who see them, but to honor Shabbat (Peninei Halakha, ibid., 2:4).

One should try to eat lunch on Friday before midday, and when necessary, up until three hours before Shabbat, in order to arrive at the Shabbat evening meal with an appetite. At the same time, we can also discard the habit of eating cakes or other tasty foods before Shabbat enters, thus causing harm to the honor of Shabbat, and the oneg of the meals. Even if it is helps children to concentrate on prayer and does not impair the Shabbat meal, for adults it is a negative and harmful practice.

Festive Meals and Prayers on these Shabbatot

On these Shabbatot more than others, it is appropriate to delight in Shabbat with delicious meals, however, without over-eating. It is also fitting to embellish Shabbat by singing zemirot (Shabbat songs), to complement tunes we have missed from tefilah b’tzibbur (public prayers).

This Shabbat, it would be good for all members of the household who are able to pray together, and in the Shacharit prayer, to read the Parshat HaShavua (weekly Torah portion) together from a Chumash (Pentateuch).

Torah Study on Shabbat

It is a mitzvah to study a great deal of Torah on Shabbat. Our Sages stated: “Shabbat and Yom Tov were given solely to study Torah on them” (Yerushalmi Shabbat 15c). In practice, our Sages said that half of our waking hours on Shabbat should be devoted to Torah and prayer. Practically speaking, half of our waking hours comes to approximately nine hours, and precisely on this Shabbat when we are confined to our homes, we should be more meticulous about this, for the virtue of Torah from which life and blessing stems, exceeds all the mitzvoth and is the deepest cure for all ills. May it be God’s will that out of the strengthening of Torah study this Shabbat, individually and in the intimacy of family, we will be able afterwards to increase Torah study on all coming Shabbatot, for good and long years.

Torah Study for the Unemployed during the Seclusion

For all the unemployed, it is great and important mitzvah to set a meaningful amount of time to Torah study during the days of seclusion. Our Sages said that the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is the equivalent of all the commandments (Pe’ah 1:1), and it is a mitzvah for all Jews to learn Torah day and night, as it is written: “Keep this book of Torah always on your lips; meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1: 8). Also, anyone able to engage in the study of the Torah but fails to do so, has despised the word of God (Sanhedrin 99a). However, during the weekdays, when busy making a livelihood, it is impossible to learn a great deal, nevertheless, one is obligated to set times for Torah day and night (Rambam, ibid. 1: 8; 3: 13). However, on days when one is free from work, such as Shabbatot and holidays, or when one is on pension leave, the mitzvah of Talmud Torah returns in full force. This is especially important for the unemployed, whose mental state is liable to deteriorate, and if they utilize these days to grow in the ‘Torah of Life’ instead of being depressed, their lives will be enhanced, and in the process, they will gain strength in their jobs, for the glory of the Nation and the Land. Even teenagers need to take advantage of the considerable amount of time now available for significant learning.

On the Yeshiva Har Bracha website, there is a study program in ‘Peninei Halakha’ with exams, which can help students.

Incidentally, I was asked by men who are first-born, and concerned they will not be able to participate in a siyyum of a tractate on Erev Pesach, and are unable to finish one on their own. They asked if it was possible to finish a book of ‘Peninei Halakha’ and make a siyyum on it, and I replied that they may do so, since this involves the joy of finishing Torah study (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 13: 5).

Mikveh for Women Should not be Canceled

Q: Is there room in this time of concern about the Corona epidemic to postpone the mikveh of a woman for her purification, because of the fear she will contract the virus while tovelling (immersing) in the mikveh?
A: As a general rule, it is a mitzvah to tovell as soon as possible and not to postpone the tevila, even for a day, because by means of tevila, the mitzvah of ‘simchat ona’ (the joy of marital sexual relations) is fulfilled, which is a great mitzvah from the Torah, and is the concise expression of the mitzvah ‘ve’ahavta l’reicha c’mocha’, (love your neighbor as yourself), of which Rabbi Akiva said, it is a great general rule of the Torah (Peninei Halakha: Simchat Ha’Bayit 1:1).

Women should not be concerned of danger as long as those responsible for public health at the Ministry of Health have not prohibited it. And although it seems there is a certain risk of Corona infection in tovelling in a mikveh, we are not talking about a danger in which such a great mitzvah should be cancelled. Specifically, we encounter dangers throughout our lives, but as long as the chances of them occurring are very low, they are not to be taken into consideration. For instance, we travel by car for outings and visiting friends, although there is a concern that an accident may occur. And we do not obligate each and every person going down stairs to firmly hold on to the railing lest he fall and get injured. And we do not prohibit close relatives from visiting patients in a hospital for fear the visitor will contract one of the diseases.

We do not know enough about the danger of the Corona virus, so when it comes to acts of ‘reshut‘ and ‘chol‘ (permitted and non-binding acts) one may be machmir (act stringently), but when it comes to such a great mitzvah, those responsible for public health, who, according to their current instructions, operate the mikveh’s for women’s tovelling – however, instructing women to complete all preparations at home, and simply tovel in the mikveh – should be relied upon. According to their rules, in this manner, there is no danger for women to tovel in a mikveh.

My wife inquired and checked, and it turned out that in these days in our community of Har Bracha, the number of women who tovelled did not decrease at all. This fact is very gratifying, for it is evidence of the dwelling of the Shechina in the homes of our wonderful, holy families, whose lives are full of love, joy, and peace.

Cancellation of Prayers in a Minyan

Some people asked: If mitzvot should not be cancelled when those responsible for public health do not prohibit it, why on Motzei Shabbat Parshat ‘Ki Tisa’ did I write that the mehadrin (those who embellish the mitzvah) should pray b’yachid (individually) and not in a minyan, and just two days later, I wrote that it is correct for all to do so – even though public health officials did not prohibit it?

There are two main reasons for this: First, the mitzvah of minyan is from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance), and in times of need, or when it is difficult – one is exempt from praying in a minyan. This is not the case with tevilat nashim (women’s immersion in a mikveh) which is associated with the mitzvah of ‘simchat ona’, a great mitzvah from the Torah, by means of which, couples fulfill the mitzvah of ‘ve’ahavta l’reicha c’mocha’, and is equivalent to all the mitzvot.

Secondly, although the instructions of the public health authorities were that minyans could be held with some caution, nevertheless, in my estimation, since most minyans normally consist of various people, there was room to gauge these rules would be difficult to abide, and therefore I thought it was preferable to cancel minyans.

Thirdly, I feared Chilul Hashem (desecration of God), as I had previously written: “If today, God forbid, because of religious practices the virus is more widespread, it will be a Chilul Hashem, and we will have to undergo a serious reckoning – because God gave us the Torah so its light and guidance would add life and blessing to us, and not the other way around.”

Nevertheless, I did not write that it was forbidden to pray in a minyan, seeing as the value of liberty is important, and as long as it is not prohibited by the instructions of those responsible – it should not be prohibited. However, the gaba’im (sextons) can decide to close the synagogue, not as a halachic obligation, rather, as public representatives.

Men’s Mikvehs

Q: Why do men’s mikvehs have to be closed, whereas women’s mikvehs are open?

A: There is no comparison between them, for two reasons. 1) Tevilat nashim is a great mitzvah from the Torah, whereas the minhag of tevila for men is not even a mitzvah of Divrei Chachamim, but a Minhag Hassidut which the majority of observant Jews do not practice. 2) Women’s mikvehs are much cleaner than men’s mikvehs, both because women need to prepare for going to the mikveh beforehand, and also because in communities where men tovel, the number of men doing so, is one hundred times the number of women, consequently it is obvious that the difficulty in maintaining the rules of hygiene in the men’s mikveh is one hundred times that of the women’s mikveh.

An Additional Question

Q: Our Sages said (Ta’anit 11a): “A man may not have marital relations during years of famine.” This is also codified in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 240:12). Perhaps these tense times can also be considered ‘years of famine’?

A: The meaning of ‘years of famine’ is a time when people die of starvation, and even those left alive suffer from hunger, and for that reason, one must not separate himself from the public and rejoice. At this time, however, we are only wary of an epidemic that may spread, but Baruch Hashem, the number of dead has not exceed the usual in the past (see, Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit 2:14). Moreover, maintaining one’s health also depends on the joy of life, and therefore, as long as it is not a truly difficult time, it is a mitzvah to fulfill all the mitzvot of joy b’hidur. Let alone someone not working, for whom the joy of the mitzvah these days is greater (see, Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit 2:7).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

Thoughts in the Shadow of Corona

The stringencies of the rules of hygiene is an opportunity to strengthen etiquette and cleanliness on ordinary days as well * The problem of eating and drinking from one person’s mouth to another, and using a central serving dish with one’s own cutlery * The similarities between rules of hygiene and  the laws of ritual purity * It is important to strictly observe the rules in synagogues, and one who prays by himself, will be blessed * For weddings planned to take place during this time – it is a mitzvah to hold them in a home-setting, and not to postpone * Weddings at these times are an opportunity to focus the joy on its fundamental nature. Perhaps when we return to normal life, we will be able to find the golden path to joyous weddings, without excessive spending

Etiquette and Hygiene

Lifestyles are changing, and along with the stricter precautions concerning health cleanliness, we are given the opportunity to re-examine various habits, some of which are not the most praiseworthy, such as “wiping-up” humus with a half-eaten pita from a plate designed for a number of people, or taking side dishes from a central serving plate with one’s own cutlery. There are two reasons this should be avoided: one, it nauseates some people, and second, for fear of transmitting diseases. The correct practice is that there should be a serving spoon for each shared side dish with which each person takes the food to his plate, and does not put his own cutlery in the central serving central dish.

Eating and Drinking from One Person’s Mouth to Another

Similarly, we also find that our Sages instructed in the tractate ‘Derech Eretz,’ and codified in the Shulchan Aruch: “One should not bite off a piece of food and place it on the table or on a serving plate in front of others, or do something else others consider disgusting… and for health reasons, one should not drink from the same cup that another person drank from” (O.C. 170: 15-16).

Rabbi Joel ben Samuel Sirkis-Jaffe (1561-1640), also known as ‘Bach’ – an abbreviation of his magnum opus, ‘Bayit Chadash’) and Rabbi Solomon Luria (1510-1573), also known as ‘Rashal’ – an abbreviation of his name in Hebrew, explained that it is forbidden for someone to give another person food he had bitten, or to drink from a glass he had used. This is because the other person may not want to eat or drink because it disgusts him, or because he is afraid of contracting a disease and endangering his health, but ashamed not to eat or drink lest he be thought of as being overly sensitive and spoiled – he would eat or drink, and imperil himself as a result of disgust or infection. However, if on his own initiative one wants to eat or drink from his someone else’s leftovers, it is permissible.

Rabbi David ha-Levi Segal (1586–1667), also known as the Turei Zahav, abbreviated ‘Taz’ (170:8), quoted their remarks, adding that some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) say one should not drink or eat from one person’s mouth to another, for he wrote: “In the book of the will of Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol (one of the Gedolei Ashkenaz in the generation before Rashi) who warns about drinking from somebody else’s cup, lest the other person is sick and transmits his illness. And it seems that about this, he said it is also a sakanat nefashot (endangering one’s health).” Both Rabbi Yechiel Michel ha-Levi Epstein (1829 – 1908), also known as Arukh HaShulchan [170:16], and Rabbi Yosef Hayim (1835 – 1909), also known as Ben Ish Hai [Parshat ‘Behar’] wrote both explanations, and also took into consideration the will of Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol. And in Ben Ish Hai, he concluded: “And the widespread minhag of family members drinking from the kiddush cup of the baal ha’bayit who made kiddush, is because they know that the baal ha’bayit is not sick with an illness that can harm them.”

Placing a Bitten Piece of Food on the Table

Our Sages said in the Tractate ‘Derech Eretz Zuta’ Chapter 6: “One should not take a bite of food and place it on the table.” And this was codified in the Shulchan Aruch: “One should not bite off a piece of food and place it on the table.” (O.C. 170:10). This is because placing a bitten piece of food on the table, with its teeth marks and residual moisture from one’s mouth, is liable to cause a feeling of disgust with others at the table (M. A. 15, M. B. 26). In Tractate Brachot 8b, Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555 – 1631), also known as ‘Maharsha’, a Hebrew acronym for “Our Teacher, the Rabbi Shmuel Eidels”, wrote a minhag of derech eretz (good manners) according to Midrash Yalkut – “one should not bite a piece of food, rather, cut off a piece and eat it.” In other words, so as not to leave a piece of bitten bread in one’s hand, a small piece should be cut off, and then eaten. And this was the minhag of Moreinu ve’Rabbeinu, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook (this is also what Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer (1870–1939), the ‘Kaf HaChaim’, wrote (170:38).

Some poskim explained that someone who took a bite out of a piece of bread [or other food items], should not put it back in middle of the table, as it is unappetizing to other people, and they will not eat from it after it was bitten from (Prisha 170:12; E.R. 18; M.B. 36).

And Bach (170:12) wrote that one should be careful not to cut off a piece of food he is eating over the central serving plate, lest crumbs fall from it into the central serving plate, as it is unappetizing to others.

Handshakes, Hugs and Kisses

A handshake expressing peace and friendship has become a routine gesture for us, and there is hardly anyone who feels uncomfortable about it. As a result, shaking hands doesn’t express any type of special connection. Many people even hug and kiss their friends, and for those who do, hugs and kisses have become a trite gesture that does not express a special connection.

When the precautionary health measures are over, we will be able to re-give handshakes a profound expression of heartfelt camaraderie between friends, all the more so, for hugs and kisses.

Restrictions in the Synagogue

When restrictions on gatherings were published at the end of last week, followed by more severe restrictions, I feared in my heart that we would not, God forbid, reach a situation where precisely in synagogues – places where holiness and life are revealed – people would infect their friends with the virus. For people are used to kissing the sifrei Torah, and those called up to the Torah, touch the etzei ha’chaim (Torah scroll handles) to which the Torah scroll is attached. Therefore, I requested that the etzei ha’chaim be cleaned with alcohol gel, or with soap. I found a source for this in the chumra of our Sages regarding machalei kodesh (sacred foods) over and above all other foods, for in all foods there is only “sheni le’tumah“, in terumah shilishi le’tumah”, and in kodesh, “revi’i le’tumah” as well.

And yet, I was still not satisfied, fearing that people might infect one another in synagogue, seeing as in every minyan, different people sit on the same chairs, and through physical contact with the chairs, tables, shtenders, and door handles, illnesses were liable to be transmitted. So when the gabbaim (sextons) announced the adding of additional minyans and their dispersion in the various synagogues in the community so as to reduce the number of worshipers in each minyan, I asked to add a preliminary statement: “In these times, someone who prays with kavana (intention) be’yachid (individually) – tavo alav bracha” (will be blessed) [as of Motzei Shabbat, and perhaps today, this should be said more emphatically].

It is common to say that thanks to the mitzvah of tevilat nashim (women’s ritual immersion) and netilat yadayim (ritual washing of the hands upon rising in the morning, before eating bread, etc.), throughout the ages, epidemics that spread among the Gentiles, affected the Jews less. If today, God forbid, because of religious practices the virus is more widespread, it will be a chilul Hashem (desecration of God), and we will have to undergo a serious reckoning – because God gave us the Torah so that its light and guidance will add life and blessing to us, and not the opposite.

Laws of Taharah and Hygiene

As a result of the carefulness of becoming infected with the virus, the common sides between the halakha’s of taharah (ritual purity) and hygiene can be discussed. Every tumah (impurity) expresses death and loss of life, both in the real sense, and in the sense of mental and spiritual weakness manifested by depression, and lack of faith. This is the type of tumah which, in order to purify oneself from it, an act of cleansing and purification must be performed.

Avi avot ha’tumah (the “father” of all tumah) is a corpse. In terms of the health danger, it is self-evident that in a dead body, infections and viruses proliferate; all the more so, when the deceased died of illness. Mentally as well, touching a dead body shocks the soul, and can cause physical and spiritual weakness. Therefore, in Biblical times, those who came into contact with the dead were isolated from the rest of the people who kept taharah, and had to wait seven days and follow through a process of purification – by being sprinkled with mei chatat (purification water) on the third and seventh day, and immersion in a mikveh at the end of the seven days (Kuzari 2: 60-62).

Even an animal’s dead body possesses a spiritual impurity, and at the same time, the danger of decay, and spreading of disease. There is a similar problem with shratzim (vermin). The tumah of a metzora (leper) is also associated with spiritual and physical death.

Tumat nida also expresses death, for there was the possibility of a pregnancy and a life, that was lost and died. Tumat shichvat zera l’vatala (the waste of seed) is also an expression of this, for that seed could have given birth to life, but it was lost and died. We also learned that giving birth makes a woman ritually impure. The notion is that every lofty idea that comes down to this world possesses a certain sense of death, because the vision is always greater than its fulfillment. The hopes leading up to birth are wonderful, the heart is inclined to believe that after birth the whole world will change for the better, and the new child will be perfect. In reality, after birth, we fall once again into the routine of life, to the pains and fatigue. Despite the miracle of birth, even the new baby eventually will have to face all the challenges that accompany a person’s life. Even the body feels it, and this is the depression that often accompanies maternity in the postpartum period.

The Joy of Weddings at this Time

Weddings are currently being held in a limited setting, and even such weddings are thought-provoking. At the wedding I officiated this week in the community, I said: “Presently, we find ourselves in special times, in which, to prevent the spread of the virus, care must be taken to ensure proper health, and this limits the joy of the wedding. But on the other hand, it puts more focus on the joy itself. Usually, we want the wedding to be as happy as possible, with as many people as possible, and as much fraternity and friendship as possible, in order to show that the joy is not a personal joy of the bride and groom alone, but the joy of all of Israel, and of all generations. Whereas now, we cannot have the usual joy. But like I said, on the other hand, it will be more profound, because you will rejoice in the actual joy itself – in the unity and connection revealed between the chatan and kallah. And God willing, you will have many happy days, births, brits, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, and weddings.”

My feeling was that the joy of the chatan and kallah was no less than usual. It was focused on the joy itself, and it was immense. Maybe from this wedding, when we return to ordinary life, we will find the golden path worthy of joyous weddings, without excessive spending.

Not to Postpone Weddings

Couples that have arranged a wedding – it is a mitzvah to have it in a home setting, and not to postpone it until they can hold it at a wedding hall as customary. The gravity of postponing of a marriage can be learned from hilchot aveilut (laws of mourning), that a wedding is not postponed due to aveilut. Similarly, we have learned that one of the reasons for the prohibition to marry on Chol Ha’Moed, is that if it was permitted to marry on Chol Ha’Moed, there is concern that couples who could get married in the months beforehand, will postpone their wedding until the Moed, so that more people will participate in their joy – and by this postponement, will annul the mitzvah of chatuna and puru u’revuru (procreation).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

The Value of Torah and of Secular Wisdom

In continuation of my column about the values ​​revealed in the Holy Temple – the Menorah represents worldly wisdom * The value of the Torah is independent, it being the direct word of God to the world, and teaches the purpose of creation and man * Secular wisdom receives its value from the Torah, and serves it * Since by means of the Torah the value of all secular wisdom and livelihoods are revealed, it is a mitzvah to honor Talmedei Chachamim * A Talmid Chacham is one who has learned Torah, and teaches and guides by it; but someone who does not know how to guide and instruct in practical, questions of life – is not considered a Talmid Chacham * Female students are required to rise before their teacher and Rabanit

Questions about the Value of Secular Wisdom and the Menorah

Following my column (two weeks ago) about holiness meant to empower life, and about the Temple vessels signifying sacred values ​​- including the Shulchan alluding to all professions and livelihoods, and the Menorah referring to all worldly wisdom, some readers asked: What’s the source that the Menorah alludes to worldly wisdom? Their question is based on the assumption that there is no sacred value in secular wisdom, for if there was, we would be obligated to study them, so how could it be that in Talmudei Torah and yeshivas, they boast that secular studies are not taught? For this reason, the value of secular wisdom must be explained.

The Value of Secular Wisdom

From the words of our Sages, we have learned that the study of the wisdom of Creation, called “Ma’asey Bereshit,” (Account of the Creation) is part of the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, but in studying it, one must be careful so as not to err (Mishna Chagigah 2: 1). On this Mishnah, Rambam explained that “Ma’asey Bereshit” refers to “the natural sciences, and research of the origins of Creation,” and the greater exalted wisdom, “Ma’asey Merkavah” (“Description of the Divine Chariot”) as “the Divine Science.” This is also what Rambam wrote in the introduction of ‘Guide for the Perplexed’: “Ma’asey Bereshit” is the Natural Sciences, and “Ma’asey Merkava” is Metaphysics.”

Additionally, our Sages enacted to recite a blessing upon seeing a brilliant non-Jewish secular scholar: “Baruch Atta Hashem, Melech HaOlam SheNatan MeChachmato LeBasar VeDam” (‘Blessed be He who has imparted of His wisdom to His creatures” (Berachot 58a; Peninei Halakha: Brachot 15:18). We see then that secular science is also considered a Divine wisdom given by God to humans. Nonetheless, the Torah is sacred and exalted above all the wisdoms, and therefore a special blessing was enacted upon seeing a Jewish Torah sage, because the foundation of the Torah is in the Kodesh HaKodashim (The Holy of Holies), whereas the foundation of secular wisdom in the Kodesh (Holy).

Maharal from Prague (Netiv HaTorah, Chap. 14) wrote similarly. Also, our Sages said (Shabbat 75a) that anyone capable of studying astronomy but does not, of him Scripture says: “But they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or consider the work of His hands” (Isaiah 5: 12). And Rambam and Maharal explained that this refers to all wisdoms.

The Vilna Gaon also said that one is required to study secular wisdom, and whoever lacks the knowledge of a portion of the secular sciences, lacks a hundred (some say ten) portions of knowledge of the Torah, because the Torah and wisdom are in unison (also Maran HaRav Kook in his name, in the article “Drishat Hashem’ in the book “Ikvei HaTzone”).

The Menorah Alluding to Secular Wisdom

The idea that the pure Menorah in the Mikdash alludes to worldly wisdom is explained by the Rishonim and Achronim, the Kabbalists, and the literal Torah commentators. Accordingly, from the pattern of the Mikdash it emerges that the place of the Torah is in the Aron (Ark) of the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies), and consequently, the Menorah that was situated in the Kodesh (Holy) alludes to the Seven Worldly wisdoms. Nevertheless, since the Torah is the source of all wisdom, some Rabbis wrote that the Menorah itself alluded to the secular wisdoms, while the lamps lit upon represented the Torah, whereas others said that the middle or western lamp alluded to the Torah.

The Menorah alluding to the secular wisdoms was written also by Rabbeinu Bechayeh, Abarbanel (Exodus 25:31); Rabbi Yonatan Eibshitz (Ye’arot Devash, Vol. 2: 7), as well as Malbim in “Ramzey HaMishkan” in the beginning of Parshat Terumah, and Natziv (HaEmek HaDavar, Exodus 39: 19).

Rabbi Moshe Sofer, author of Chatam Sofer (Nedarim 81a) similarly wrote about the mistaken, who blaspheme the Torah, but boast of wisdom: “In truth, it is written: [‘’When you light the lamps, the seven lamps] shall shine toward the center of the Menorah‘ which is the light of the Torah, toward the Torah the seven lamps shall shine, all the wisdoms which are Seven, all of them will shine towards the Torah, and serve it like perfumers and cooks, as Rambam wrote.” This is also what he wrote in his chiddushim on Parashat Beha’alothekha. Rabbi Yosef Shaul Natanzon (author of Responsa ‘Sho’el U’Mashiv’) wrote similarly in his chiddushim on Tractate Shabbat (21b), that the Seven wisdoms alludes to the seven lamps, and the hint of the eight days of Chanukah, is that the Seven wisdoms serve the wisdom of the Torah.

The Torah’s Superiority over Secular Wisdom

However, the Torah is superior to all other wisdoms, for the foundation of all worldly wisdom is in the Kodesh, whereas the Torah is founded in the Kodesh HaKodashim, and therefore, all secular wisdoms are considered external in comparison to the wisdom of the Torah, which is the source of all of them. In other words, the value of the Torah is independent, because it is the direct word of God to the world, while all the other secular wisdoms explain the wisdom of the Creator revealed in creation, but not the purpose of creation and man. The meaning of this is that the Torah elucidates the great destiny set before man to repair the world in the kingdom of God, and its fundamental influence is in guiding man to correct himself, so that he is able to take control of the negative sides of his desires, and direct and elevate them for the good so he can add goodness and blessing to himself, and the entire world. In contrast, the different wisdoms do not clarify the purpose of man and the world’s rectification, but rather, help to understand and fulfill the purpose. Therefore, as long as the secular wisdoms are connected to the Torah, they are sacred, seeing as thanks to them, it is possible to understand the purpose in a complete way and realize it, but as long as they are not connected to the Torah – they are secular.

The Torah Empowers Secular Wisdom

One of the expressions of the superiority of Torah wisdom over other wisdoms, is that out of Torah study the sacred value of all wisdom is revealed, and by means of it, the importance of each wisdom and how it assists in tikun olam is revealed.  Therefore, the more connected we are to the truth of the Torah, the more we will understand the value of all the secular wisdoms. Conversely, if we connect with one of the external wisdoms, or even all of them, we will not be able to understand the importance of other wisdoms and values, because without the Torah – the sacred, inner side of the secular wisdoms vanishes, remaining hollow, lacking value ​​and meaning. Therefore, it is a mitzvah to honor Talmedei Chachamim (Torah scholars), because by means of the Torah, the great value of all the secular wisdoms and all the productivity made to improve the world, are revealed.

The Mitzvah to Honor Talmedei Chachamim

It is a mitzvah from the Torah to honor Talmedei Chachamim, as it is written: “You shall fear [‘et’] the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 6: 13) – “including Talmedei Chachamim” (Pesachim 22b). This mitzvah includes standing up in honor of a Talmid Chacham, even if he is a young, as written: “And give respect to the old [‘zaken’]” (Leviticus 19:32) – “’Zaken’ (reading zaken as an abbreviation, zeh kanah hokemah, literally, ‘this one has acquired wisdom’) means only one who has acquired wisdom” (Kiddushin 32b; Rambam, Laws of Talmud Torah 6:1). A Talmid Chacham is one who has learned Torah, and by its guiding light, understands life, teaches, guides and instructs according to Torah. However, someone who has studied, researched, and is very exacting but does not know how to educate, guide, and instruct on questions of life — is not considered a Talmid Chacham (see, Shach 244:11).

How to Rise, and For Who

The mitzvah is that it be evident that one’s rising is in honor of the Talmid Chacham, and therefore the mitzvah is to rise when the Chacham enters into one’s four amot (196cm), until he passes from in front of his face (S. A., Y. D. 244, 2:9). However, in honor of his Rav muvhak (any person from whom the student has received the majority of his Torah wisdom) the mitzvah is to rise when one sees him from afar, as long as it is evident that he is standing up for his honor, and continue standing until he sits down or until he passes from within his sight (Ran, Kiddushin 33a; S. A. 244, 9).

The mitzvah of honoring a Torah scholar is to fully stand up (Tur, 244; Taz, ibid. 4; Chayei Adam 69, 4). However, in practice, many people usually settle rising slightly in honor of a Talmid Chacham. Apparently, since rabbis have not taught students that the mitzvah is to fully stand up in their honor, seemingly, they agree to this, and a rabbi who forgives his honor – his honor is forgiven (S. A. 244:14).

However, in honor of one’s Rav muvhak, one is required to fully rise until he sits in his place. Similarly, during the period one learns Torah from a Rabbi, such as students learning from their rebbe, or from a Rav at a regular Torah class, it is a mitzvah for the students to fully stand in honor of the Rav when he is within their four amot. Also, it is a mitzvah to fully rise up in honor a local rabbi who teaches Torah to his community when he is within one’s four amot.

How Many Times a Day

The poskim disagree about students who study with a Rav in his home: some say they must rise up before him every time he enters and leaves the room – even a hundred times (Rosh; Birkei Yosef 242:21). Others say they have to stand up before him twice a day, one time in the morning, and a second time in the evening, so that the honor of his Rav should not be greater than that of Hashem (Rambam Laws of Talmud Torah 6: 8, according to Kiddushin 33b). Nevertheless, even according to the lenient poskim, in a place that is not the home of the Rabbi, one is required to stand up before him when he enters and leaves, because there may be other people who do not know that he had already stood up in the morning, or plans to stand up before leaving in the evening (Tosafot, Rama 242:16). And if, during the same session in yeshiva, or during the same gathering, the Rav leaves or enters, in the opinion of the lenient poskim there is no need to stand up before him, since everyone knows that one stood up before him when he first entered, and will stand up before him when he leaves. This is the common minhag, except for instances where the Rav rises to give a class, is called to the Torah, or turns to talk to someone who is sitting, in which case, although they had stood up before him at his entrance, they are required to stand up before him once again.

Workers are not obligated to stop and stand for a Talmid Chacham while they are working (S. A. 244:5).One is not required to stand for a Talmid Chacham in a bathroom, or in an inner room of a bathhouse, because standing up in such a place is not considered respect or honor (ibid., 4).

Between Two Torah Scholars

A Talmid Chacham is not required to stand up for another Talmid Chacham, but rather, it suffices to show him some form of respect (S. A. 244:8). Similarly, a Rabbi is not required to stand up before a student even if he is a very great Torah scholar, but it is good to show him some form of respect (Rama, ibid). Nevertheless, it seems that when called to stand before him, such as when he is about to give a class, he should rise.

Rabbanit

One is obligated to stand for the wife of a Talmid Chacham, just as one is required to stand for the Talmid Chacham himself, because ‘eishit chaver, k’chaver’ (the wife of a Talmid Chacham should be treated with the same respect as her husband). Apparently, the intent is a Rabbanit who is a full partner in assisting his teaching and dissemination of Torah. And even if her husband passed away, as long as she did not re-marry, one is required to stand up (Shevuot 30b; Rishonim, ibid). Similarly, a Rabbanit or a teacher who imparts Torah, her students are obligated to stand up before her when she enters within their four amot, and all of them are obligated to stand up when she enters the room to teach them.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

Should a Bar or Bat Mitzvah be Celebrated? If So, How?

The age of a girl or boy becoming obligated in mitzvot is mentioned in the Gemara, and codified in halakha * At that age, the yetzer ha’tov (good inclination) enters a person, in other words, the ability to accept responsibility, and act for the Clal * Parents who embellish the mitzvah prepare with their children towards the age of mitzvot, and initiatives such as journeys to discover family roots, or encounters with exemplary figures, are considered a mitzvah * True, in the past, Bat Mitzvah’s were not celebrated, but Bar Mitzvah celebrations were also rare * Today, when financial means have improved and the minhag is prevalent, it is appropriate to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah as well, and preferably, the Bat mitzvah girl should prepare a sermon, and even make a siyyum on an important book

The Questions Concerning Bat and Bar Mitzvahs

Bezrat Hashem, this Thursday evening we will celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of Yiska, our first granddaughter who turns twelve. We do have an older grandson, but since he has to wait until he is thirteen, his Bar Mitzvah celebration will only take place in another three months.

There are three questions worth exploring before the celebration. First, is it a mitzvah to celebrate? Second, why until the last few generations did observant Jews not have a Bar Mitzvah party? Third, is there a difference between boys and girls? In order to answer these questions, the foundation and significance of the mitzvah requires clarification.

The Change of Status upon Coming of Age

The time when all the mitzvot of the Torah become obligatory is when adolescents reach the age of mitzvot, however, before that, they are still considered ketanim (young), and the Torah did not obligate them in mitzvot. Indeed, before children reach the age of mitzvot, it is a mitzvah from the Torah to teach them Torah, in order to familiarize them with the Torah’s values ​​and so they will observe the mitzvot, as it is written: “Listen, Israel, to the rules and laws that I am publicly declaring to you today. Learn them and safeguard them, so that you will be able to keep them” (Deuteronomy 5:1). Therefore, our Sages said that together with the mitzvah to teach children Torah, they must be taught to observe the mitzvot. In other words, included in the mitzvah to teach them Torah, they must be trained to fulfill its mitzvot as best as they can (Sukkah 42a). However, in practice, the obligation to keep every mitzvah is derived from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance).

When they grow up and are able to take responsibility for their actions, they will be obligated to observe the mitzvot from the Torah – a daughter from the age of twelve, and a son from the age of thirteen (Nida 45b; S.A., O.C. 616:2). The very age at which youth are obligated in mitzvot is founded in ‘Halakha le’Moshe Mi’Sinai’ (a law given to Moses at Sinai).

Why Daughters Predate

Our Sages explained in the Talmud (Nida 45b), that a daughter becomes obligated in mitzvot a year before a son, since God “endowed woman with more understanding than man,” and therefore, she is able to bear responsibility and commit to mitzvot already at the age of twelve, whereas a son, only at the age of thirteen. However, this halakha is not agreed upon by all, and according to Rabbi Shimon Ben-Elazar, a son is obligated in mitzvot at the age of twelve, and a daughter, at the age of thirteen. The reasoning for this is because “as a boy frequents the house of his teacher” (to learn Torah and a profession) “his shrewdness (i.e., wisdom of life) develops earlier.” Tosefot explained, that even when he doesn’t have a rabbi or a teacher, since he is used to going out into the market-place and seeing the world, he becomes clever before a daughter who is not used to leaving her home. In practice, however, halakha goes according to the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, and as explained in the Mishnah, that girls enter mitzvot first at the age of twelve, and boys at the age of thirteens (S.A., O.C. 616:2).

The Entry of the ‘Yetzer Tov’ – The Acceptance of Responsibility

Our Sages said, from the time a person is born until he reaches the age of mitzvot, he has a yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination), but when he reaches the age of mitzvot, he also receives the yetzer tov (good inclination) (Avot de’Rebbe Natan 16). Seemingly, one could ask: usually, babies and little children are cute and good. Why then did our Sages say that they only possess a yetzer ha’ra? On the other hand, adolescents are the ones who occasionally tend to be brash and disobedient. Why did our Sages say precisely at that age the yetzer tov enters their being?

To be more precise, the essence of the yetzer tov is expressed in a person’s ability to understand the world and choose to perform good deeds in order to perfect it, whereas at the early stages of life, little children are self-concerned, and unable to understand the world and choose to act to make it better. Even when a little child performs good deeds, usually it is done to obtain a prize or a compliment, or out of fear of punishment for bad behavior. This is the meaning of the yetzer ha’ra in a young child, namely, an inclination of self-concern. As he grows older, he is instilled with the yetzer tov as well, and from then on, has the ability to be responsible for his actions, and becomes partner in Clal Yisrael’s responsibility to observe Torah and mitzvot. Therefore, from the time girls and boys reach the age of mitzvot, they are able to be shlichim (emissaries) for the fulfillment of mitzvot, such as attesting to tevilat keilim (the immersion of utensils in a mikveh), and they are also able to perform mitzvot and discharge other’s obligation of the mitzvah, such as saying kiddush on Shabbat, or lighting Chanukah candles for the family. And if they ate, they are able to recite a bracha out loud, and thus discharge the obligation of others (Peninei Halakha: Brachot 1:10).

The Mitzvah of Joy at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah

It is a great joy for a Jewish boy or girl to reach the age when they become obligated in mitzvot, because from then on, the virtue of the mitzvah’s observance is on a higher level (Baba Kama 87a). Therefore, it is mitzvah to have a seudah (ceremonial meal) on the day of entering mitzvot, which is a simcha (joy) of adherence to the mitzvot. The custom is that during the seudah, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah stands before those gathered, and gives thanks to Hashem for the merit of committing themselves to the mitzvot, and to be part of the great mission of the Jewish people. Words of Torah should also be spoken, as an expression of their full responsibility for the observance of the Torah. And even the parents should thank Hashem for the merit of raising their children, and bringing them to this point (Yam Shel Shlomo; M.B. 225:6). It is also customary for Talmedei Chachamim and relatives to say words of Torah at the seudah, and bless the Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

In a similar fashion, it is related in Zohar (Zohar Chadash, Vol.1, 18:2) that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai invited Torah scholars to eat at a great seudah that he made, and in which he was extremely happy. They asked him why he was so happy, and he replied: ‘Because on this day, my son Elazar has reached the age of thirteen, and a holy soul descends upon him.’ The meaning is that until the age of thirteen, only the nefesh is revealed, whereas from the age of thirteen, he is also able to absorb the neshama (soul), and this is the meaning of accepting the yoke of mitzvot, and the instilling of the yetzer ha’tov.

Even concerning the simcha that Avraham Avinu arranged for his son Yitzhak Avinu, some meforshim (commentators) say that it was on the day he reached Bar Mitzvah, as written: “The child grew and was weaned (ve’yigamel). Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned (higamel)” (Genesis 21: 8). They interpret the word higamel as meaning that he was “weaned” from bondage to the yetzer ha’ra, and instilled with the yetzer ha’tov (Berashit Rabbah 53:10, according to Matnat Kehuna). From this seudah, a great sanagoriah (defense) is stirred for the sake of Israel, “for militzei yosher (advocates in the Heavenly courts) say before HaKadosh Baruch Hu, ‘Ribono shel Olam (Sovereign of the world), look at your children, how glad they are to enter into the yoke of your mitzvot.”

The Customs of the Party

The mitzvah is to hold the seudah on the exact day of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, which is the birthday of twelve year old girls and thirteen year old boys, which is the real day of joy. When it’s difficult to have the seudah on the exact birthday, it can be held a day or two later, since the joy of entering the age of mitzvot still continues. However, in order to strengthen the mitzvah at the seudah, even though it is not on the day of entering mitzvot, a lot of divrei Torah should be spoken (see, Yam Shel Shlomo in Baba Kama 7:37; Magen Avraham 225: 4). And it is also good for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah to make a siyum on an important book.

It is good to buy new clothes for the son or daughter entering mitzvot, and for them to recite the She’hechiyanu blessing on them, and also have in mind to give thanks for entering the yoke of mitzvot on that day (Ben Ish Chai, Re’ah, 17). Even when forced to postpone the party for a day or two, it is good for them to recite She’hechiyanu over the new clothes on their birthday, the day when they enter the yoke of mitzvot.

Customs Leading Up To the Simcha

Parents who mehadrim (embellish) the mitzvah, study with the boy or the girl before their Bar or Bat Mitzvah about the meaning of Torah and the acceptance of mitzvot. Some parents even embellish the mitzvah by planning a journey for their children in which they deepen their acquaintance with the roots of their family, their grandparents etc., thus linking their private joy to the glorious chain of generations of the Jewish nation. Some parents’ custom is to introduce their children to Talmedei Chachamim and educators, or Jews engaged in important mitzvot, such as settling the Land, helping others, or developing science for the benefit of humanity, thereby connecting their personal responsibility to keep the mitzvot to national responsibility and tikun olam (perfecting the world). In a similar way, it is related in the Tractate Sofrim (18: 7) that anshei Yerushalayim would take their Bar Mitzvah sons to be blessed by Talmedei Chachamim. Some have the custom for the boy or girl to speak about their family-root journey at the Bar or Bat Mitzvah seudah.

Bat Mitzvah

Some poskim argued against celebrating a Bat Mitzvah, a minhag that did not exist among Jews in the past, claiming it is a mimicry of Gentile customs, and a breach of tzniut (modesty) (see, Igrot Moshe, O.C. 1:104). Perhaps in the past there were grounds for their claims, but today there is no reason to take their opinions into consideration. The reason for this is that in the distant past, apart from individuals who embellished this mitzvah, most families did not even celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of their sons. Apparently, due to impoverishment and the burdens of work, many people did not celebrate joyous occasions when they did not have to. However, since it is appropriate to celebrate the day when a child enters the yoke of mitzvot, in recent generations when the workload decreased, and people became richer, are more easily able to pay for a simcha, and can free up the time needed to participate in it, the minhag of celebrating Bar Mitzvah’s spread to all Jews. And since in the past, the common practice in the world was that women were less likely to leave their homes out of modesty, even a Bat Mitzvah was noted only within a family’s home, by buying a new and festive garment (Ben Ish Chai, Re’ah 17). However, the more women began to work outside the house in various jobs, and take responsibility for public affairs as well, the more common was the need to celebrate the day of entering mitzvot with a large party, to the point where the minhag of celebrating a Bat Mitzvah with a seudat mitzvah became widespread (Sredei Aish 3: 93; Yaskil Avdi, Vol. 5, O.C. 28; Yabiah Omer, Vol. 6, O.C. 29).

Siyum of a Book at a Bat Mitzvah

Therefore, it is a mitzvah to celebrate the day of one’s daughter’s entering mitzvot, and just as boys are prepared to read and study Torah for their Bar Mitzvah, it is also appropriate for girls to study Torah and prepare a sermon on the value of the Torah and mitzvot for their Bat Mitzvah. And if possible, before the Bat Mitzvah celebration, it would be good for the daughter to study a book of halakha, or another important book, and make a siyum at the party.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

Holiness Empowers the World

Some think that connecting to holiness implies a distancing from the world, and that when the Holy Temple is built, the insignificance of this world will be exposed * In truth, though, the purpose of the Beit HaMikdash is to bring blessing to the world, and accordingly, study of the Torah portions dealing with Mikdash adds blessing * In the Kodesh HaKodashim, the Brit between God and Israel is revealed, and in the Kodesh – chochmah, parnasah, and tefillah, which feed from the Kodesh HaKodashim * Like the Mikdash, Talmedei Chachamim in Eretz Yisrael are also supposed to bring blessing to the world through their studies * Torah scholars in the Diaspora need to oppose and condemn to maintain their independence, and fight assimilation. In the Diaspora this is important; the problem is, when ways of anger and accusation reach Eretz Yisrael

The Torah goes to great length in describing the Mishkan (Tabernacle), its vessels, and the priestly garments. Thus, it turns out that every year we study four Torah portions concerning the mitzvot of the construction of the Mikdash and its vessels. By studying the Mikdash, we connect to the totality of Divine values, and the more we study and delve deeper into them – the brighter they will shine the hearts of Jews, and draw light and blessing to all walks of life. And so, we will merit to build the Temple speedily in our days.

Holiness Adds Blessing to the World

Kedusha (holiness) adds life and blessing to the world. Therefore, in the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies), above the Aron (the Holy Ark) were the Keruvim (cherubs) resembling a male and female lover, which were intended to express the connection of love and life between God and Israel His nation, as written: “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).

In contrast, there are those who mistakenly think that the call to holiness means distancing oneself from the world, and the more of a tzadik (righteous person) one is, the less important all the world’s affairs are. As far as they are concerned, the more “holy” people there are, and upon the building of the Beit HaMikdash, everyone will realize the world’s insignificance – its emptiness of meaning and kedusha. However, their outlook is contrary to emunat ha’yichud (the belief that Hashem is One). God created the heavens and the earth, and over all of creation said “tov me’od” (it is very good). After all, God did not create the world in order to cause man to fail, or to put him to the test, rather, so that he could reveal the image of God within himself, and partner with God in building the world by developing and perfecting it, both practically and morally, until the time when the Shekinah (Divine Presence) dwells in a focused and visible manner in the Mikdash, and from there, the its inspiration emanates to the entire world, as it is written: “And may the pleasantness (‘noam’ in Heb.) of the Lord our God be upon us, and the work of our hands establish for us (in the Mishkan), and the work of our hands establish it (that blessing dwell in all of the work of our hands – Rashi)” (Psalms 90:17)

In other words, a world that has a Mikdash in it, is filled with Divine values, is sanctified, and comes to be pleasurable and blessed, similar to the way Talmedei Chachamim (Torah scholars) of Eretz Yisrael are called “noam.” The study of the purpose of ​​the Mikdash and the values ​​revealed in it as well, generates enlightenment and blessing.

Kodesh HaKodashim

The Mikdash was divided into two parts: the inner third was the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies), and the remaining two-thirds was the Kodesh (Inner Sanctuary). The Kodesh HaKodashim was intended to the reveal the brit (covenant) between God and Israel, and therefore, in its center was the Aron (Ark) containing the Tablets of the Covenant. This brit between God and His Chosen Nation Israel is fulfilled by means of the Divine instruction to the world – the Torah – and therefore, the Torah was also placed in the Kodesh HaKodashim. As previously mentioned, on top of the Aron were the two Keruvim, expressing the sanctity of marriage whose foundation is in the Kodesh HaKodashim – namely, that the love and joy between husband and wife, through whom life abounds in the world, reveal on a small-scale the idea of emunat ha’yichud in this world.

We find, therefore, that the two basic values ​​revealed in the Kodesh HaKodashim are the sanctity of emunah (faith), and the sanctity of Israel, which are expressed through the Torah and marriage.

The Three Vessels in the Kodesh

There were three vessels in the Kodesh (Inner Sanctuary): the Shulchan (Golden Table), the Menorah (lamp), and the Mizbe’ach HaKetoret (The Altar of Incense). The Shulchan expressed all types of work and matters of livelihood; the Menorah represented all types of wisdom in the world; and the Mizbe’ach HaKetoret, on which the incense was burned every morning and evening, expressed worship of the heart in prayer. A curtain was placed between the Kodesh and the Kodesh HaKodashim, in order to differentiate between the levels of holiness, for of the holiness of the Kodesh is derived from the Kodesh HaKodashim. In other words, the sanctity of work, science, and prayer stems from the sanctity of the brit between God and Israel.

The table on which the bread was sacrificed expressed the value of work and livelihood, for by means of man’s work, he partners with God in the world’s existence and development.

The Golden Menorah expressed the value of all of the world’s secular wisdoms and arts; it had seven branches, alluding to all the different types of wisdoms, all of which are Divine.

The Mizbe’ach Ha’Pe’nimi (The Golden Inner Altar) on which the ketoret (incense) was burned, expressed worship of the heart in prayer. The ketoret was made from eleven incenses, relating to the ten levels of sanctity upon which the world was created. The eleventh incense alluded to the sinners of Israel, who, as long as they still remain connected to the Clal (general public), join in with the kedusha (holiness), and their foul smell even becomes pleasant.

The Great Outer Altar and Sacrifice

The prerequisite for the existence of all these values ​​is willingness to commit oneself to them, to sacrifice for them. This was expressed by the Mizbe’ach Ha’Chitzon (The Great Outer Altar). It is impossible to attain Torah without willingness to sacrifice leisure time in order to study diligently. It is impossible to maintain the covenant of marriage without the willingness of husband and wife to devote themselves to one another, and readiness to compromise and sacrifice. It is impossible to succeed at a job without dedication and a willingness to make an effort, and occasionally, work overtime. Likewise, a scientist would never be able to discover the secrets of nature without devoting himself to his research.

Above all, Am Yisrael, whose roots stem from the Kodesh HaKodashim, cannot exist without the holy soldiers willing to sacrifice themselves for the sanctity of the Nation and the Land. And in every place where the soldiers of Israel stand on guard to protect their Nation and Land, spreads the sanctity of the Mizbe’ach, whose roots are in founded the brit between God and His Nation in the Kodesh HaKodashim.

When we are worthy, the mesirut is expressed in the offering of korbanot (sacrifices) – giving ma’aser kesafim (money tithe), readiness to sacrifice and help family and friends, and by studying Torah, even when difficult. However, from time to time difficult circumstances arise, when, if one wants to remain connected to eternal values, he must be prepared to sacrifice life itself. Without the Mizbe’ach, the Beit HaMikdash cannot exist, as well as all the sacred values ​​in the world.

The Centrality of the Mikdash to the World

Thus we find, the pattern of the Mikdash we picture is not intended to minimize the value of the world, rather, to enhance all the values ​​revealed in it, and to make it pleasant, and blessed. The Beit HaMikdash is the life force of the world, and consequently, it was erected on the “ev’en ha’she’tiyah” (the stone from which the world was founded). Our Sages said that the heavens and earth were created from Zion, as it is written: “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth” (Psalms 50:2) – i.e., from it, the beauty of the world was perfected (Yoma 54b). Heaven express the ideas, and earth, the deeds, and it all stems from Zion.

Therefore, all worshipers are required to direct themselves towards Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash, so that their prayers will be for the purpose of tikkun olam (perfecting the world), and its blessing. As our Sages said: “If one is standing in Chutz le’Aretz, he should turn mentally towards Eretz Yisrael, as it says, ‘And pray to you toward the Land you gave their ancestors’. If he stands in Eretz Israel, he should turn mentally towards Jerusalem, as it says, ‘And when they pray to the Lord toward the city which you have chosen.’ If he is standing in Jerusalem, he should turn mentally towards the Beit HaMikdash, as it says, ‘And when they pray toward this house.’ If he is standing in the Beit HaMikdash, he should turn mentally towards the Kodesh HaKodashim, as it says, ‘When they pray toward this place.’ If he was standing in the Kodesh HaKodashim, he should turn mentally towards the Beit Ha’Kapporet. If he was standing behind the Beit Ha’Kapporet, he should imagine himself to be in front of the Kapporet… in this way, all of Israel will be turning their hearts towards one place” (Berachot 30a).

Drawing Kedusha from the Mikdash to the Land

The study of Torah in Eretz Yisrael is also different for the better than abroad, for Talmedei Chachamim in Eretz Yisrael are called “noam” (pleasant) – “because they treat each other graciously [man’imim] when engaged in halachic debates,” whereas Talmedei Chachamim in Chutz le’Aretz are called “chovlim” (injurers) – “for they hurt each other’s feelings [mechablim] when discussing halakha”(Sanhedrin 24a).

In Eretz Yisrael, emunat ha’yichud is revealed, whereby kedusha is revealed in all walks of life. Therefore, Talmedei Chachamim Eretz Yisrael’im are called “noam“, for they see the value of their friends’ words, and try to find ways to unite and join all values ​​and explanations. Not only that, but they are also gracious to all those engaged in work and the sciences, because anyone engaged in the building and prosperity of Eretz Yisrael, fulfills the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settlement of the Land of Israel), which is the mitzvah by which the Shechina dwells in the Land (Chatam Sofer, Sukkah 36a).

In contrast, Talmedei Chachamim in Chutz le’Aretz are called “chovlim” because in order to survive, they are forced to oppose all the evil reality of galut (exile), which subjugates and humiliates Jews, and as a result, they develop a trait of anger against the nations who act in this manner; otherwise, the only remaining option is to assimilate and disappear. In other words, opposition and negation of the surrounding reality maintains independence, which is the fine-line that connects Jews to the hope of Geulah (Redemption). This position also influences the study of Torah, which, in order to guard the remote tie that connects each group to holiness, feels it must clash with other views. Consequently, it is also difficult for Talmedei Chachamim in Chutz le’Aretz to see the sacred, self-value in work and in secular wisdom, because it blurs the fine-line that remotely maintains connection to holiness.

About the Angry and the Accusers

As long as this style of Talmedei Chachamim in Chutz le’Aretz is designed for survival, for necessities sake, it cannot be condemned. However, when such a position carries on to Eretz Yisrael, and is expressed in anger at other various values, even if they intone passionately about the exaltedness of holy purity, in truth, they are empty of Torah and holiness. Or, as Maran Ha’Rav Kook wrote: “We must hate anger in all the depths of our being. With great anger, but moderately and with a level-head, we must hate hot-headed anger, which jumbles and disrupts da’at (wisdom), and disqualifies all the great benefits of man – the individual, and the public. When we see a group or party always speaking angrily, it is an unmistakable sign that they possess no da’at or substance to fill their emptiness, and they are really angry with themselves, except that egoism comes and forces them to impose the venom of their anger on others. The supreme Torah scholars, who have reached the threshold of justice and kindness, are always full of desire, and grace and truth adorn them all day long” (Orot HaKodesh, Part III, p. 244).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

Concern for Shatnez Nowadays?

The prohibition of shatnez applies only to wool and linen, and only if the cloth contains both * In the past, most clothing was made of wool and linen; later, cotton was used, and in recent generations, synthetic materials are most popular * Today, the rate of wool and linen used in the entire clothing industry has declined to only one percent * When buying clothing, if the label says is not made of wool and linen, the chance of shatnez is extremely low * In luxury suits and coats the chance of shatnez is low, but still requires inspection * Clothing sellers are still responsible for checking the clothes sold in their store

Q: Someone who buys clothes from a seller unfamiliar with the prohibition of shatnez, must he check the clothes for shatnez, or perhaps the obligation to check for shatnez is only in clothes made of wool or linen?

The Mitzvah

The Torah commanded not to wear a garment made of tzemer (wool) and pishtan (linen), as it is written: “Keep My decrees…do not wear a garment that contains shatnez [a forbidden mixture of wool and linen fabrics] (Leviticus 19:19). Wool is what grows on the species called keves (sheep), whose males are called aylim (rams), and females’ rechalim (lambs). However, what grows on other animals is not included in the prohibition, because it is not just called ‘wool’, but carries a by-name, such as “camel wool” or “rabbit wool.” In practice, from ancient times until today, most of the wool produced in the world came from sheep, because they naturally grow a lot of fine wool, and are easy to raise.

Linen (made from flax) is a long, single stem plant, within which there are fibers from which strong threads can be made, and with special processing, delicate threads can be intertwined for weaving fine white clothing. In the past, the most common clothing was made from wool or linen, so much so, some Sages held the opinion that when the Torah says “beged” (garment) without elaborating, its intention is that of a garment made of wool or linen (Menachot 39b).

The prohibition is to wear a garment that has wool and linen together, such as a woolen garment sewn with linen thread, or even only if its label is made of linen. However, there is no prohibition to wear two different pieces of clothing at once, one made of wool and the other linen, thus one is permitted to wear wool trousers and a linen shirt. It is also permissible to wear a woolen robe and fasten it with a linen belt, for as long as there is no bond of sewing, or a permanent joining between the woolen garment and the linen one, there is no prohibition. A combination of other threads made from various plants, such as hemp and cotton, is permitted. From Divrei Chachamim (rabbinic ordinance), it is also forbidden to sit on cloth that contains shatnez, lest a loose thread touch one’s bare body even slightly, or lest one mistakenly wraps himself with it. In order to prevent such mistakes, our Sages additionally decreed the prohibition of sitting or lying down on a couch-cover containing shatnez, even if there were ten “kosher” fabrics upon it (Beitza 14b; S.A., Y.D. 301:1).

The Nature of Wool and Linen Clothing

The special quality of wool clothing is that it insulates, maintaining body warmth in the winter. In addition, it tends to be more stain resistant, non-absorbent, and since it also retains heat, coats are usually made from it. Wool is also easily dyed, and retains the color as part of the thread. It is resilient, and thus if wrinkled, easily returns to its natural shape. For these reasons, woolen clothes preserve their relatively new look for a long time.

Linen fabrics were considered comfortable and high-quality fabrics because linen threads are strong, and when delicate threads are intertwined from them, very fine white clothing can be weaved from them. In addition, the lack of uniformity in the thickness of the linen thread, caused by its natural growth, gives linen clothing a beautiful and interesting look, to the point where our Sages said that it was a mitzvah for men in the Land of Israel to make their wives happy on holiday’s with the gift of ironed, linen garments, which they especially fancied (Pesachim 109a). A characteristic of linen fabric is that it is lightweight and does not insulate, and thus, suitable for the production of breezy, summer clothes. Their shortcomings are that they wrinkle easily, absorb stains, and are relatively difficult to clean. As a result, when a substitute for linen was found, its status greatly declined.

The Upsurge of Cotton

The substitute found for linen was cotton, which became widespread several centuries ago. Although clothing made from cotton is slightly warmer than linen, nevertheless it was preferable because cotton is easier to grow and produce thread from it, and because cotton clothes wrinkle less, and are easier to wash. Consequently, today, 80 times more cotton is produced in the world than linen, with the majority of linen being manufactured for the production of strong threads and other non-clothing purposes.

Since thick cotton clothing can be made for winter, by and large cotton has also replaced wool. The amount of cotton produced in the world today is twenty-five times that of wool. Additionally, there are also other threads produced from types of plants and animals, which also contribute to a certain reduction in the percentage of wool and linen used in the clothing industry.

Still, when manufacturers wanted to sew woolen fabrics with strong thread, they would sew it with strong linen threads. Therefore, wool suits and coats had to be checked for shatnez, as well as sofas and armchairs covered with woolen fabrics.

The Rise of Synthetic Threads

About three generations ago, the way was found to produce from by-products of crude-oil, synthetic goods such as plastic and nylon, and artificial threads from polyester and acrylic from which fabrics could be produced. Initially, synthetic clothing was impermeable and provided poor insulation, and those wearing them suffered from sweat and cold, and their main selling-point was they were inexpensive in comparison to regular clothing. However, as they improved, they became more breathable and provided better insulation, and seeing as they were also cheaper and easier to clean and iron, they became extremely popular. In recent years their improvement continued, to the point where more than 70 percent of all thread produced in the world is synthetic. That was the case in the year 2017, whereas ten years before that, they were 60 percent of all thread produced. In practice, the rate of clothes made from wool and linen in the entire clothing industry declined to just one percent, and their share is likely to continue to decline.

The Use of Wool and Linen Today

In practice, luxury linen shirts and suits are rarely found today. Linen threads and fabric are more frequently used due to their strength, as they are good for tying objects and weaving thick fabrics, and sometimes linen fabrics are used to bolster different parts of coats and suits, for example, bolstering the collar of a suit and strengthening places where buttons and loops are sewn. However, the use of linen threads is on the decline, as many manufacturers prefer to use synthetic threads which are stronger, cheaper, and easier to use.

For the reasons mentioned, wool clothing has also declined, but because of its warming and non-absorbent properties – people who prefer natural, breathable material, prefer wool sweaters, and because of wool’s luxury look, many prefer wool suits and coats.

The Practical Halakha

In the vast majority of clothing today there is no concern of shatnez because they are made of synthetic or cotton material. Therefore, whenever it is written on the label of a garment that it is mainly made of synthetic, cotton, or other non-woolen or linen materials, one should not be concerned they contain shatnez. Although in rare cases garments may have a wool or linen embroidery, or was sewed with linen thread, nevertheless, there will still be no mixture of wool and linen together. Only in very rare cases can one find both a linen thread and a wool decoration attached to a garment. However, since it is a very distant concern of less than one thousandth of a percent, it is enough to read the label on the garment, and if it is not written that it is made of wool or linen – one should not be concerned it contains shatnez.

In woolen or linen clothes, too, it is enough for the buyer to look at the clothing label. If it is written that the garment is made of wool or linen with other materials without a blend of wool and linen, it does not need to be checked. True, sometimes labels are inaccurate – or because a wool or linen garment made of less than a percentage or two does not need to be listed, or because in rare occasions, a garment can be mislabeled. However in practice, as long as it is not written on the label that there is both wool and linen in the garment, the likelihood that it contains shatnez is a fraction of a percent, much less than miut ha’matzuey (10%), therefore, one need not be concerned about it.

The Concern about Expensive Wool Suits

Nowadays, the concern for shatnez can be found in expensive, high-quality wool suits and coats, which once in a while are sewn by hand with linen thread. Sometimes the collar and button-downs are reinforced with strong linen fabrics, and sometimes linen fabric is placed in the shoulders and front lining. Therefore, someone who buys a very expensive wool suit or coat, since linen is used in more than 10% of them, one is obligated to check them for shatnez.

It is also appropriate for someone who buys a linen suit to check it, since there is somewhat of a concern that wool was placed in its collar.

Shatnez Testing Labs

In a shatnez test laboratory, a microscope is used to see the fibers from which the thread is made. Since each thread has its own shape, those familiar with the shapes of the threads can distinguish wool from linen, and amongst other types of threads. In general, the policy of examiners in the laboratories tends to take into consideration the methods of individual poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who are machmir (rule stringently), both in the laws of shatnez, and in the requirement of examination.

The Responsibility of Merchants

Everything we’ve learned so far concerns shoppers, but clothing store owners must be more machmir. Both because it is easier for them to check the manufacturers and suppliers and bring a sample to be examined, and also because their responsibilities are greater since they sell to the public. Therefore, whenever they receive wool or linen clothing that according to their familiarity may contain shatnez, even though it is less than miut ha’matzuey, they should give a sample of the clothing to be tested, and if the sample shows no signs of shatnez, they do not need to check other clothing from the same series. In cases where according to their experience there is no concern, they need not be examined. On the other hand, when there is great concern, such as in expensive suits and coats, all of them must be checked.

Likewise, buyers should prefer purchasing woolen or linen clothing from God-fearing shop owners, who are careful not to cause shoppers’ to transgress the prohibition of shatnez. However, if they bought clothing in a regular store, they are obligated to check only very expensive woolen suits and coats, and linen suits.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.