Alcohol – Between the Joy of Mitzvah, and Moshav Leitzim

In continuation of the previous columns: Clarifying the educational approach towards alcohol at parties *Drinking wine in the atmosphere of a mitzvah brings joy, whereas drinking wine frivolously causes only sorrow * Alcohol can cause even the most honorable person to lose control * Music adds to frivolity, therefore, after the destruction of the Temple our Sages forbade playing musical instruments and singing at parties, except at the events of a mitzvah * Parties of a secular atmosphere are considered “moshav leitzim”, which our Sages instructed not to attend, not even once * Even good friends can behave harmfully at a party, and in such a situation, it is imperative to stay away from them

The Gezera on Wine in the Past and Present

In the last two columns, I asked a question: As a continuation of the gezerot (decrees) our Sages decreed against drinking alcohol with non-Jews, would it be fitting to forbid the drinking of alcoholic beverages in clubs and pubs whose character is secular, or to emphasize the educational aspect of alcohol consumption outside the framework of a mitzvah? I received many thoughtful responses. I will mention an additional response, and then continue to clarify the issue.

“Rabbi, I am a graduate of a Hesder Yeshiva. During the past two months I have been on educational shlichut … before going abroad, I studied with good halachic advisors … however, Rabbi, nothing was written about the prohibition on drinking alcohol with non-Jews as you wrote in your column. In fact, until now I didn’t even know the prohibition existed! … Regarding the question … One ex-Orthodox traveler who saw how far I went out of my way to obtain kosher wine for Kiddush, asked me if I agree with the prohibition of drinking wine that a non-Jew touched. Rabbi, I think even you would agree that the prohibition of stam yainum (wine which might have been poured for an idolatrous service, but we did not see it happen), which heavily influences governing kashrut, is irrelevant in its current, sweeping form. I answered him that, beyond my general obligation to halakha, I see no reason to forbid buying wine for Kiddush from non-Jews. On another occasion, when chiloni (secular) travelers asked me about the prohibition on wines, I replied that it was forbidden for historical reasons. As the words came out of my mouth, my stomach turned. What are ‘historical’ reasons?! I want the Torah to be a Torah of life, not a museum! On the other hand, I am aware of the difficulty of permitting decrees of our Sages when there is no Sanhedrin, etc.

But in my humble opinion, as long as rabbis are unable to permit decrees that are no longer relevant, it is inappropriate to add new decrees that are not explicitly mentioned in the Gemara and poskim. You cannot hold the rope by both ends! In my opinion, the public (many of whom are aware of the difficulties of the halakhic system I pointed out) will “vote with their feet”, and may not only ignore the new prohibition, but also the old ones, God forbid. Instead, I would focus on strengthening and emphasizing the prohibited aspects of going to clubs, such as the prohibition of mixed dancing, immodesty, etc. Thus, it will be easier to eliminate the bad phenomena from its roots, more successfully.”

Another person wrote it would be proper to elaborate on the various prohibitions of drinking in pubs and clubs that everyone agrees with, for example, playing secular music along with alcoholic beverages, and the dangers of drunkenness.

The Prohibition of Stam Yainum

Before I elaborate on our Sages instructions concerning the drinking of alcohol, I must explain that our Sages decree on “stam yainum” is not for historical reasons, but rather a principled position, according to which Jews should separate themselves from the foods of non-Jews, in order to isolate themselves from too close a relationship that could lead to assimilation. Therefore, they prohibited the wine, bread, and cooked food of non-Jews. True, the prohibition of hana’ah (receiving all types of benefit) from stam yainum has a historical reason, namely, that the gentiles were accustomed to perform libations with wine in order to please their idols, and therefore our Sages ruled that any wine that was touched by them would be forbidden even b’hana’ah. If the non-Jew is not an oved avodah zarah (idol worshipper), his wine is forbidden to drink, but permitted b’hana’ah, for example, to sell it to another non-Jew (Geonim, Rambam, and Rashba). Some say that even if he is an idol worshipper, if offering wine is not part of his custom, the wine he touches is forbidden to drink and permitted b’hana’ah (Rashi, Rashbam and Ri’van).

Frivolous Drinking

And now I will address the educational aspect: our Sages instructed that alcohol should not be drunk lightheartedly or among frivolous people, because alcohol has an immense effect, and consequently, one must be very careful about it. As we have learned in the Torah that even as great a man as Noah, when he was not careful with wine, stumbled and fell into the abyss of shame and disgrace. Also Lot, a relative of Avraham Avinu, as a result of drinking, committed adultery with his daughters (Genesis Rabbah 36: 4). And Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron Ha’Kohen, who were righteous as their father and intended to inherit his position, since they were not careful about wine and entered the tabernacle drunk, they were punished and died (Leviticus Rabbah 12: 1). Our Sages also said: “Nothing else but wine brings woe to man” (Sanhedrin 70a). They said as well that wine is liable to cause a person to sin and commit adultery, and therefore anyone who fears his yetzer (evil inclination) will overcome him, should refrain from wine (Nazir 2a). When our Sages spoke of wine, they meant the alcohol contained in it, since in their times, drinking wine was the way most alcohol was consumed.

Drinking and the Joy of a Mitzvah

Nevertheless, wine also has a positive side, namely, its ability to give expression to true joy, as stated in the section of ‘Thanksgiving to Hashem’ in Tehillim, that in all the good things Hashem gave to man, he also gave wine: “Bless Hashem, O my soul! O Hashem, my God, you are very great… and wine to gladden the heart of man”(Psalms 104: 1, 15). And our Sages said: “A song of praise is sung only over wine” (Berakhot 35a). Therefore, they instituted reciting Kiddush over a glass of wine on Shabbat and Yom Tov, at weddings, and at the Brit Milah (circumcision) ceremony. As written in the Zohar: “There is no sanctity but in wine, and no blessing but in wine” (Vol.3, 189: 2).

The difference, therefore, is between the joy and drinking for the purpose of a mitzvah, and the joy and drinking for frivolous purposes, or as our Sages said (Shabbat 30b), the proper joy is the joy of a mitzvah, as it is written: “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad” (Ecclesiastes 8:15). But one must be careful of joy that is not a mitzvah, as it is said: “Of laughter, I said, “[It is] mingled”; and concerning joy, what does this accomplish?” (ibid. 2: 2), and Rashi explained: ‘Of laughter, I said, “[It is] mingled”, i.e., mixed with weeping and sighs. ‘And concerning joy, what good does it accomplish’: behold, its end is grief.

Frivolous Drinking Accompanied by Music

When drinking alcohol in a group of people along with music, the fear that a person will become rowdy, forget his purpose in life, and be dragged after his desires greatly increases, as our Sages said that several troubles, including exile, come upon Israel as a result of this (Sotah 40a). And as it is written, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, pipes and timbrels and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of Hashem, no respect for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; those of high rank will die of hunger, and the common people will be parched with thirst (in place of the wine that they drank). Therefore Death expands its jaws, opening wide its mouth; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers. So people will be brought low and everyone humbled, the eyes of the arrogant humbled” (Isaiah 5: 11-15).

The Cancellation of Singing since the Annulment of the Sanhedrin

We also find our Sages instructed halachically that it is forbidden to sing or play musical instruments while drinking alcohol, unless it is for the joy of a mitzvah (S.A., O.C. 560: 3). The source of the Sages’ words is from the Mishnah: “When the Sanhedrin ceased to function, song ceased from the places of feasting, as stated in the prophecy of calamity in Isaiah, “They shall not drink wine with a song, etc.” (Sotah 38a). In the Talmud (Gittin 7a), Mar Ukva also instructed that zimra, i.e. singing, was also forbidden while drinking wine, as it is stated (Hoshea 9: 1): “Do not rejoice Israel; do not be jubilant like the other nations” (Gittin 7a). The Yerushalmi explains: “At first, when the Sanhedrin was functioning, it was able to impose discipline and prevent the introduction of inappropriate content in song.  When the Sanhedrin ceased to function, it could no longer impose discipline and people would introduce corrupt lyrics into music” (Sotah 9:12).

In other words, it is clear that even before the destruction of the Temple it was forbidden to sing vulgar and corrupt words over wine, as we learned in the Prophet, that because they were not careful of this, they were punished with destruction and exile, however, singing secular songs over wine was permitted. But after the destruction and the annulment of the Sanhedrin, wine was also forbidden over “songs of love and friendship, and praise of man’s beauty,” as Rav Hai Gaon wrote (Teshuvot HaGeonim, Harkabi 60), and quoted by Rif (Berachot, beginning of chapter 5) and Tosephot HaRosh (Gittin 7a).

But service and praise to Hashem is permitted while drinking wine, and it is even a mitzvah to do so at a joyous mitzvah occasion, such as a wedding.

‘Moshav Leitzim’

Mundane drinking in a group of frivolous people along with laughter is considered moshav leitzim (idiomatically, ‘in the company of fools’),” as it is stated: “Wine is a maligner; alcohol leads to brawls. And whoever is deceived by either will never be wise” (Proverbs 20: 1). Rabbeinu Yonah explained: “Drinking leads to three bad things: First, it causes you to malign. Second, it makes you rowdy and talkative, and as our Sages said: “Speaking a lot encourages sin”(Avot 1:17). And third, whoever is deceived by it will never be wise” (Sha’arei Teshuva 3: 177).

Therefore, one should not drink in clubs and parties with friends as is customary in secular society, while the entire goal is to get “wasted” and to “unwind” from the bonds of morality, thus leading to great danger, because someone dragged after this is liable to distance himself from Torah and mitzvoth, and eventually sin. This is what our Sages meant: “Distance yourself from an evil neighbor, and do not befriend the wicked one” (Avot 1: 7). However, sometimes people who frivolously drink in clubs, in other areas of life act righteously, and then it is proper to form relations and friendships. However, when they drink frivolously, the bad sides of disbanding Torah and mitzvot come to fruition, and at that time they are considered bad friends who are liable to distance themselves and others from Torah and mitzvot. This is the meaning of the verse: “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand on the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers” (Psalms 1: 1). Our Sages interpreted that a person should not say, “I will go only once to the feast of scoffers”, for if he goes, subsequently, he stands with them, and if he stands, he will at the end sit with them, and if he does sit, he will also come to scorn (Avodah Zarah 18b).

Sometimes a person is invited to a secular event that takes place in a frivolous atmosphere in the company in which he works, and it seems that if possible, it is preferable to refrain from participating in such an event. And if one cannot avoid it, he should at least be careful not to drink alcoholic beverages.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. For a more in-depth look at the relationship between Jews and non-Jews, please read Rabbi Melamed’s article:

More Decrees or Education?

More Decrees, or Education?

The previous column ended with a question to the public: Should parties with a secular atmosphere be included in the prohibition against drinking at non-Jewish parties, or is teaching to refrain from drinking at such parties enough? * Consultation with the public is important in halachic rulings * The question of whether instituting prohibitions or investing in education and guidance is the focus of the dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel * The decree on wine and alcohol of non-Jews is determined according to Beit Shammai, but nevertheless, remains the halakha * According to the halachic approach of Beit Hillel it seems strict halachic rulings are less effective, and instead, it is preferable to give guidance and direction to young people who go to parties

The Previous Column’s Question

In the previous column, I asked a question: Most of the restrictions our Sages instituted regarding the wine of non-Jews to prevent assimilation and the abandonment of Torah and mitzvot are ineffective today because many people consume alcoholic beverages other than wine. The prohibition against drinking alcoholic beverages with non-Jews and at non-Jewish parties is also less effective, since in Israel, the process of abandoning Torah and mitzvot and assimilating occurs via a shift to Jewish secular society, as opposed to that of non-Jews. The question is: given all the halachot and their rationales, is it possible today to issue a gezera (decree) declaring it is forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages in clubs and pubs of secular character, or is it more appropriate not to issue a decree, but rather, to educate against drinking alcohol outside of the context of a mitzvah?

Criticism of the Question

Before I share a few of the responses, there were some people who criticized the question itself. Some did so in a Haredi style: “How can a rabbi consult with the public? A rabbi should lead the public, and not follow them!” Others criticized it in a Torani style: “Rabbi, if the question was to find out what takes place in pubs, or what problematic situations should be restricted – fine; but asking the public whether prohibiting drinking in secular settings should be written as advice or halakha? Since when have we heard the public is a partner in considerations of halakhic rulings?”

First of all, the question was primarily intended to hear different perspectives on the subject. Second, many of the readers are Torah scholars and educators whose opinion is important, as Rambam wrote: “When a court sees it necessary to issue a decree, institute an edict, or establish a custom, they must first contemplate the matter and see whether or not the majority of the community can uphold the practice. We never issue a decree on the community unless the majority of the community can uphold the practice” (Hilchot Mamrim 2:5).

Our Sages said (Avodah Zarah 36a, b) the source for refraining from issuing a decree the public cannot abide by, comes from the verse: “You are cursed with a curse, but you rob Me, the whole nation!” (Malachi 3: 9). In other words, if the entire nation can fulfill the decree – it should be issued; if not – it should not be issued. Rashi explains: ‘You are cursed with a curse’ i.e., the public accepts upon themselves a decree through an oath thus prohibiting them, but consequently ‘you rob Me’ – because, not being able to uphold the decree, the oath is transgressed. Thus, if the Sages issue a decree the public cannot uphold, they cause the public to sin.

Moreover, today we are unable to issue a new gezera; rather, the question is, if learners of Torah and the public think the existing decrees should also include drinking alcohol in a secular atmosphere.

Enlightening Comments

From the responses I received, I learned a lot from the personal experiences and different opinions of my readers. I will quote from two similar responses, and then, explain the process of how gezerot (decrees) are issued.

“Rabbi, although you directed the question to young people and I am not so young anymore, and certainly do not spend time in places like bars, clubs, etc., some of my family unfortunately sometimes do. In my humble opinion, the definition should preferably be given as guidance, and not halakha. This way it will be easier for young people to accept. For, in any case, defining it as halakha won’t be very effective because young people will always invent all sorts of arguments why drinking and having a good time is permissible. It is also worthwhile to add reasons why drinking alcohol is bad other than unruly conduct and clowning around, such as the health damages of habitual drinking, and the moral reasons as well, like the fact that drunkenness leads to quarrels, stabbings, and road accidents. Also, to advise those who do decide to go to bars, to drink small amounts, slowly, and so forth.”

Another response: “In my humble opinion, there is no point at all in writing it is forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages in bars and parties of a secular nature … On the contrary, similar to what you wrote rabbi, sometimes setting extreme restrictions distances people instead of bringing them closer, and in this case, determining it as a prohibition is liable to lead to a disregard for rabbinical writings on this subject altogether. If I were to propose a suggestion, I think it would be worthwhile to be meticulous about the kashrut of food when in a secular environment, and emphasize that the laws of kashrut require special study for those who find themselves in secular environments. Also, to strengthen the fulfillment of mitzvoth, and never forget to recite all blessings, and even recite them out loud, to give emphasis to religious identity.”

The Dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel

“Anshei Knesset HaGedolah” (the Men of the Great Assembly) said three things: “Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence for the Torah” (Avot 1: 1). The fences indeed restrict Jews from violating the prohibitions of the Torah; the question is, is it preferable to institute more fences, or is it preferable to invest in education and guidance, and less in setting prohibitions. On this question, Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagreed. Beit Shammai tended to be strict, believing that additional restrictions and decrees should be established in order to fortify the observance of Torah. Beit Hillel, on the other hand, acted modestly, believing it was preferable to attempt to educate, and minimize issuing gezerot, for adding too many decrees weakens and distances the general public from the observance of mitzvot. Generally, halakha goes according to Beit Hillel who were more numerous, and whose words were more accepted by God and man, as our Sages said: “For three years there was a dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel… Then a bat kol (heavenly voice) issued, announcing: The utterances of both are the words of the living God, but the halakha is in agreement with the rulings of Beit Hillel… because they were kindly and modest, they studied their own rulings and those of Beit Shammai, and were even so humble as to mention the actions of Beit Shammai before theirs”(Eruvin 13b).

Once, however, at a very tense meeting in the attic of the house of Hananiah ben Hezekiah, a dispute arose between the students of Beit Shammai and the students of Beit Hillel. When it came to a count, there were more students of Beit Shammai, and eighteen gezerot were decreed that day. Most of the decrees dealt with the addition of restrictions in the laws of tumah (impurity) and taharah (purity), especially in matters invalidating the terumot (heave offerings) that the Kohanim (priests) would eat in purity, but at the same time they also made a decree on the wine, bread, and oil of non-Jews (Shabbat 13b; 17b; Avodah Zarah 35b).

Rabbi Eliezer, who tended towards Beit Shammai, said: “On that day they overfilled the measure” i.e., they set limits in a beautiful and good way, to restrict the people from transgressions. Rabbi Yehoshua, who was from Beit Hillel, said: “On that day they emptied it,” in other words, they decreed too many decrees that were difficult for the public to uphold, and while violating the decrees of the Sages, people are also drawn to violate the laws of the Torah (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 1:4; Rashi, Shabbat 153b). Before relating what happened to those decrees, I will speak a bit about that meeting.

The Story of the Assembly in the Attic

Concerning Hananiah ben Hezekiah, in whose house the gathering took place, our Sages said: “In truth, that man, Hananiah ben Hezekiah by name, is to be remembered for blessing: but for him, the Book of Ezekiel would have been hidden, for its words contradicted the Torah. What did he do? Three hundred barrels of oil were taken up to him and he sat in an upper chamber and reconciled them.” Apparently, from time to time the Sages came to visit him to discuss words of Torah, and once when important discussions arose, “They took a count, and Beit Shammai outnumbered Beit Hillel, and on that day they enacted eighteen decrees.” Although Beit Hillel usually was the majority, it’s possible that at that meeting some of those from Beit Hillel joined Beit Shammai, perhaps because Hananiah was inclined towards Beit Shammai, and thus the gezerot were decreed according to the opinion of Beit Shammai (Mishnah and Gemara, Shabbat 13b).

It is said in the Yerushalmi: “That day was as difficult for Israel as the day the Golden Calf was made [because of the terrible tension that had arisen and had almost caused bloodshed]… Rabbi Yehoshua taught…the students of Beit Shammai stood below and were killing [an exaggeration] the students of Beit Hillel” (Shabbat 1: 4). In other words, the students of Hillel saw that the students of Shammai outnumbered them and they wanted to leave and thus cancel the assembly before being counted, and the ruling is decided according to Beit Shammai. But the students of Shammai “stuck a sword in the Beit Midrash (study hall)” to express the severity of the matter from their point of view – that no one should leave and no one should enter until a decision was made. The students of Beit Shammai were the majority, and the gezerot were decreed according to their opinions, and among the gezerot they also decreed on wine, bread, and oil (Shabbat 17a, b; Rambam in the commentary of the Mishnayot, Ra’avan, Chatam Sofer ibid. See Yerushalmi Shabbat 1:4, that some are of the opinion that from the outset bread and oil were decreed by agreement).

The Fate of these Decrees

Although Beit Hillel generally was the majority, and this majority expanded over the generations, the Torah scholars of Beit Hillel did not seek to challenge the validity of the decrees determined according to Beit Shammai, since they were accepted decisively, and by means of mesirut nefesh [self-sacrifice] (Avodah Zarah 36a).

However, in practice, following the destruction of the Temple and the cancellation of taharah in Israel, most of the eighteen decrees were terminated in and of themselves. Moreover, it became clear there was room for concern among the Sages of Beit Hillel, since, in practice, many of the Jews did not comply with the decree on the oil: some two hundred and fifty years after the prohibition in the early days of the Amoraim, the Sages probed and found that the gezera of oil had not been accepted by the majority of Jews, and Rabbi Yehuda Nisiah, the grandson of Rebbe, together with his Beit Din (religious court) annulled the decree prohibiting oil. It is further stated in the Yerushalmi (Shabbat 1: 4) that at times the attempt to observe the gezera on oil led to life-threatening situations since oil was in great need, and occasionally Jews would go up Har HaMelech to harvest olives, and the gentiles would kill them.

The decree on bread was also lessened by Rebbe, the author of the Mishna, and in the wake of his words, pat paltar goy (a gentile baker’s bread) was permitted. Nevertheless, the prohibition on wine remained in place, and our Sages even decreed it forbidden b’hana’ah (all types of benefit), lest it had been poured for avodah zarah (idolatry). They also added a prohibition of drinking alcoholic beverages at a non-Jew’s house, or near his store.

Thus, the conclusion emerging from the words of our Sages over the generations is that the main fence against assimilation they reinforced is wine and alcohol, and consequently, there is room to deliberate drinking in a secular atmosphere. However, we have also learned from this matter to be very careful in adding prohibitions.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. For a more in-depth look at the relationship between Jews and non-Jews, please read Rabbi Melamed’s article:



Drinking with Non-Jews – What is Forbidden and Where?

Drinking with Non-Jews – What is Forbidden and Where?

The prohibition against wine of non-Jews is more severe than the ban on bread and cooked food, and even the touch of a non-Jew renders it forbidden * Our Sages also forbade drinking alcoholic beverages with a non-Jew, even when drinking alone * At parties and events of non-Jews it is also forbidden to eat * In a situation when maintaining a good relationship and preventing animosity exists, there is a disagreement among the poskim – is it possible to be lenient, or actually a reason to be stringent * In the past, a public desecrator of Shabbat was considered to be similar to a non-Jew in this issue, but today the reality has changed * The question today: Is participating in a party with a secular atmosphere just the proper thing to do, or is it absolutely prohibited?

The Prohibition of Wine Touched by a Non-Jew

Our Sages set restrictions on foods of non-Jews, in order to distance Jews from the fear of assimilation. Therefore they forbade eating pat (bread) and tavshelei goyim (cooked food of non-Jews). And regarding yayin (wine), which makes one happy and feel more casual, our Sages set more severe restrictions, and also forbade the wine of a Jew touched by a non-Jew. If the person who touched it is an oved avodah zarah (idolater), the wine is forbidden b’hana’ah (all types of benefit), comparable to the law of wine that was offered to idols. If he is not an idolater, the wine that he touches is forbidden b’shtiyah (to drink), but permitted b’hana’ah, i.e., it can be sold to a non-Jew.

Drinking Alcohol with a Non-Jew

Following the Sages prohibition of wine, bread, and the cooked foods of non-Jews, the Amora’im added another restriction to prevent assimilation, namely, prohibiting Jews from drinking alcohol at the home of a non-Jew, in his store, his coffee shop, or any other place he owns. The prohibition includes all alcoholic beverages such as whiskey, arak, vodka, liqueur, beer, and the like. The prohibition is even when the Jew drinks it alone without the non-Jew since the drink is liable to damage the appropriate barrier intended to separate a Jew. Such a prohibition was unnecessary in the days of the Tannaim because they drank mainly wine, upon which they ruled severe gezerot (decrees), but in Babylon where the custom was to drink other types of alcoholic beverages, it was necessary for them to forbid such drinks as well (Aruch Ha’Shulchan 114:6).

The Differences between Alcohol, and Bread and Cooked Foods

The prohibition against eating pat and tavshelei goyim applies to bread and cooked foods prepared by non-Jews, and are forbidden to be eaten even in a Jew’s house. However, regarding alcoholic drinks, the prohibition is not on the drink itself, but rather on drinking it with a non-Jew. Therefore, if the non-Jew prepared an alcoholic drink containing no forbidden ingredients, it is permissible for a Jew to drink it in his house, since the prohibition of tavshelei goyim does not apply to it because it is essentially water. On the other hand, even if a Jew brought an alcoholic drink to the non-Jew’s home, it is forbidden for him to drink it there, even if he drinks it alone (S. A. 114: 1).

However, if a Jew needs to drink a bit of an alcoholic beverage in order to strengthen himself, or to prevent a headache, he is allowed to enter a non-Jew’s store, buy a drink, drink it, and leave. And if he is temporarily at the home of a non-Jew for some other purpose and is offered a drink which he is particularly in need of, he is permitted to have one drink in his house, provided they do not sit together to drink (S. A. 114: 1). And if he had to drink on two different occasions, he should not drink a third time, even if necessary, for this has gone from the category of temporary drinking to substantial drinking, and the fear arises that it will result in an overly close relationship (Knesset HaGedolah, Pri Chadash 4, Kaf HaChaim 6).

Staying in a Non-Jew’s House

Someone who takes a trip and stays at the home of a non-Jew, whether for pay or for free, may bring an alcoholic drink with him and drink it at the non-Jew’s house, for at that time the non-Jew’s home is considered his home. And if the host offers him a little alcohol, he is allowed to drink a bit, in order not to create animosity between them. But there is no heter (permission) to eat even a little pat or tavshelei goyim to prevent animosity (Tosafot Avodah Zarah 31b, S. A., 114: 1, Shach 2).

Drinking at a Gathering of Non-Jews

Similarly, it is forbidden for a Jew to have even a little alcoholic drink at a gathering of non-Jews for a toast, even in a neutral place that is not the home of the non-Jew. And even drinking an alcoholic beverage that the Jew brought with him from home is forbidden, since drinking at a gathering of non-Jews is liable to breach the fixed barrier necessary against assimilation. But eating light refreshments served there is permitted, provided it is kosher. And if this is a gathering of Jews, even if there were non-Jews present, since the majority of participants are Jewish, and the atmosphere is of a Jewish nature, it is permissible to drink an alcoholic beverage (according to Rambam, from the Laws of Forbidden Foods 17: 10).

It is forbidden to Eat at a Party of Non-Jews

When it comes to a party of non-Jews, such as a wedding or welcoming home party, let alone a holiday, such as New Year’s, Christmas, or the Festival of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) – seeing as the meal is more important, not only is it forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages, but even eating kosher food there is forbidden. And this is a Torah prohibition, as many have written (Rosh, Ritva, Yam Shel Shlomo, Taz, Aruch HaShulchan, Netziv).

There are two reasons for the prohibition. One is that the meal brings hearts closer, and thus, the fear of assimilation increases. The second reason is that if the non-Jew is an oved avodah zarah (idolater), participating in his meal constitutes support for his avodah zarah. And even if the non-Jew sets aside a table for the Jews and serves mehedrin kosher food, it is forbidden to eat there. For indeed, we have learned in the Torah that it is forbidden to participate in the meals of non-Jews on account of these two fears, as it is written: “Be careful that you not make a treaty with the people who live in the land. When they practice their religion and sacrifice to their gods, they will invite you, and you will end up eating their sacrifice (their meal). You will then allow their daughters to marry your sons, and when their daughters worship their gods, they will lead your sons to follow their religion” (Exodus 34: 15-16). Regarding this, our Sages said: “Jews who reside outside of the Land of Israel serve idols though in pure innocence. How? If, for example, an idolater gives a banquet for his son and invites all the Jews in his town, then, even though they eat of their own, and drink of their own, and their own attendant waits on them, Scripture regards them as if they had eaten of the sacrifices to dead idols (sacrifices of avodah zarah)” (Avodah Zarah 8a). Our Sages also said that in the days of Ahasuerus, the Jews sinned in that they enjoyed the meal of that wicked person, and some say that because of this, they were deserving of extermination (Megillah 12a).

When there is a Fear of Animosity

When there is a fear that abstaining from participating in a wedding or a party of non-Jews will cause animosity, the poskim disagree whether it is permitted to participate in the party and to taste the kosher foods. Some poskim say it is forbidden since the main concern is that this will lead to marriage and assimilation, and consequently the fear of animosity does not nullify this – on the contrary – it is good that distance is created between them (Taz, Y.D. 152:1). Other poskim say that it is permissible, since the entire participation is only on account of the animosity that may result, and therefore it clearly does not come to strengthen their religion, or to become overly close (Nikudot HaKesef, ibid). Some poskim rule leniently b’shaat dachak (in times of distress). Nevertheless, even according to the lenient poskim, it is absolutely clear that it is forbidden to drink any alcoholic beverages there.

A Jew who Publicly Desecrates Shabbat

The attitude towards the desecration of Shabbat is especially severe, to the point where our Sages said it is forbidden to accept a korban (sacrificial offering) of a Jew who publicly desecrates Shabbat, and that his ritual slaughter is not kosher (Chulin 5a; Eruvin 69b). According to this, Rambam wrote (Laws of Shabbat 30:15): “The observance of Shabbat and the prohibition against worshiping false deities are each equivalent to the observance of all the mitzvot of the Torah. And Shabbat is the eternal sign between the Holy One, blessed be He, and us. For this reason, whoever transgresses the other mitzvot is considered to be one of the wicked of Israel, but a person who violates Shabbat is considered as an idolater. Both of them are considered to be equivalent to gentiles in all regards.”

The Status of a Shabbat Desecrater Today

According to this some Rishonim wrote that wine touched by a Jew who publicly desecrates Shabbat is forbidden, and has the same halachic status as wine touched by a non-Jew who is not an oved avodah zarah, which is forbidden to drink and permitted b’hana’ah (Bahag, Rabbeinu Yona, Eshkol, Rivash, and others). Nevertheless, this din (law) is not mentioned in the Gemara, and even many Rishonim did not mention it, therefore, some poskim are of the opinion that halachically there is no prohibition of wine that has been touched by a public desecrater of Shabbat. However, the vast majority of Achronim agreed that wine touched by a public desecrater of Shabbat is forbidden to drink.

For many generations, this was the custom, because indeed, Shabbat was the clearest expression of Jewish identity and anyone who dared to publicly desecrate Shabbat thereby drastically defied the faith of Israel, and explicitly declared that he does not identify with Judaism. However, in recent generations, many Jews were influenced by non-Jews, to the point where Shabbat was no longer the expression of Jewish identity. Moreover, if in the past protesting against Shabbat desecraters helped prevent them from leaving Torah and mitzvot, in recent generations, protesting sometimes distances them even more. Consequently, when necessary, many of the latter poskim were lenient, instructing that only someone who flagrantly desecrates Shabbat in order to anger and defy Jewish tradition is considered similar to a non-Jew, but someone who honors Shabbat by making Kiddush or by lighting candles is not considered similar to a non-Jew. Moreover, if he is a Jew who has not received Torah education, he is similar to a tinok shenishba bein ha’goyim (an infant captured [and consequently raised] among non-Jews) who does not understand the severity of desecrating Shabbat. And even if a person grew up in a religious home, sometimes the secular influence is so strong that he is close to being considered shogeg (sinning unwittingly) and anus (coerced), not being able to resist the winds of the times (Binyan Tziyon Chadashot 23; Melamed L’Ho’il, O.C. 29; Iggrot Rayah, Vol. 1, pg.138). Moreover, there is a fear that being stringent in this matter will cause insults and disagreements in families and communities (Rabbi Yosef Mashash, Otzer Ha’Michtavim, Vol. 2 Aleph, 302).

Question to Readers

I am currently involved in writing the halachot of yayin nesech (wine poured in the service of idolatry) and alcoholic beverages, and I have a question. In practice, most of the restrictions that our Sages set against assimilation and the abandoning of Torah and mitzvot are ineffective today, since the majority of gezerot (decrees) were decreed on the wine of non-Jews, whereas today, many people consume other types of alcoholic drinks. The decrees regarding non-Jews are also ineffective since the assimilation process occurs through the transition to secular society. The question is whether from all the halachot and their reasons, is it possible to determine that it is forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages at secular parties, such as in pubs, night-clubs, and parties whose secular character derives from foreign cultures; or is it preferable to write only that it is correct to refrain from such activity so as not to fall spiritually, as our Sages especially warned against drinking alcohol in a way of wild behavior and clowning, and instructed to drink and rejoice only in groups that gather for the joy of a mitzvah?

I would like to ask the readers, especially young people familiar with the social dynamics of such events, to express their opinions and arguments – what is appropriate and effective to limit, and should this limitation be defined as halakha, or as guidance.

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

The Mitzvah of Pru U’ Revu Requires Effort

The Mitzvah of Pru U’ Revu Requires Effort

Every birth of a child is a great mitzvah and partnership with Hashem in the creation of the world * Our Sages determined it is impracticable to rely only on the birth of two children since we do not know what their future will be, and thus one must try to have at least four children * In the past, artificial methods of giving birth were considered unnatural intercession, however, today, when methods of treatment have proven to be effective, it is a mitzvah to make use them * Just as one does not rely on prayer to earn a living but works for his sustenance, thus, prayers alone should not be relied upon – and when necessary, turning to treatment is obligatory

The Mitzvah of Pru U’ Revu

Q: Are a couple who find it difficult to fulfill the mitzvah of pru u’ revu obligated to consult a doctor?

A: It is a mitzvah from the Torah to procreate and multiply (pru u’ revu in Hebrew), and with every child born to a husband and wife, they fulfill a great mitzvah, are privileged to partner with Hashem in the birth of a human being, and thus, maintain an entire world (Niddah 31a, Mishna Sanhedrin 4: 5). This is the fundamental goal of creation, for Hashem desired the world to be inhabited, as our Sages said: “Indeed the world was created only for procreation”(Mishnah Gittin 4: 2), as it is said: “He created it not a waste, He formed it to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18).

Since the fulfillment of this great mitzvah depends on many factors, without a binding definition – despite people’s good intentions – many will not succeed in fulfilling it. Thus, halakha determines it is a mitzvah to marry by the age of twenty, and when necessary, as in our times, marriage can be postponed until the age of twenty-four (Peninei Halakha: Simchat Ha’Bayit U’Birchato 5:7-11).

Two Steps in the Mitzvah

From the Torah, the obligatory mitzvah is to give birth to a son and daughter, and our Sages additionally determined as an obligatory mitzvah that a person beget more children. There are two reasons for this: 1) because of the great significance of partnering with Hashem in the birth of life into the world, “for one who adds a soul in Israel, it is as if he built a world”, and 2) because even if a person merited giving birth to a son and a daughter, he cannot be certain he has fulfilled the mitzvah. Perhaps one of his children will die, or is sterile, or remains single all his life. Apropos to this, Rabbi Yehoshua said (Yevamot 62b): “If a man married in his youth, he should marry again in his old age; if he had children in his youth, he should also have children in his old age; for it said, ‘In the morning sow your seed and in the evening let your hand not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well’ (Kohelet 11:6).

Seemingly, one could say that the obligation determined by our Sages is unlimited and that one must strive with all his might to have as many children as possible. However, it seems more likely that there are two steps in the mitzvah determined by our Sages. The first step is suitable for everyone – namely, to have about four or five children. The second step is a hiddur mitzvah (an enhancement of the mitzvah) – i.e.,  having more children – each couple according to their ability and discretion (Peninei Halakha ibid 5: 5-6).

The Obligation to Use Medical Treatment

Q: In the event of difficulty in getting pregnant, must a couple turn to doctors, perform tests, and use medical treatments to fulfill the mitzvah?

A: A couple who has found through reliable tests that the chances of having a child naturally are very low must do everything acceptable according to medical practice in order to fulfill the mitzvah of pru u’revu. This includes in-vitro fertilization, which is performed by taking eggs from a woman and sperm from a man and combining them in a test tube where they mix and begin developing into a fetus which is then inserted into the uterus.

Indeed, in the past, the poskim ruled that a person did not have to take unnatural steps in order to fulfill the mitzvah, and as ‘Divrei Malchiel’ wrote about a hundred years ago in his Responsa: “We were commanded to fulfill the mitzvah of pru u’ revu naturally, and not by such deception, which is closer to the issur (prohibition) and the michshol (obstacle)”. The “michshol” is hotza’at zera levatalah (the wasting of seed), and the fear that a woman may have been impregnated by the sperm of another man.

However, this was at a time when no reliable methods of solving the problems were found, and even doctors differed; consequently, the majority of people were not used to using methods developed by some doctors, and thus trying them was considered unnatural. However, today when medical methods have developed successfully, to the point where the majority of problems of infertility are resolved by them, everything common within the framework of medicine is considered obligatory in the mitzvah. And clearly, the obligation includes all treatments that health funds are required to provide to their policyholders. In addition, it seems that even treatments that are not included in the regular health insurance, if most people who want to have children use them, they must be done even if they are expensive, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of pru u’revu (Peninei Halakha ibid 6: 1, footnote 1).

A Woman’s Obligation is the same as a Man’s

Q: Since only the man is obligated in the mitzvah of pru u’revu and a woman is exempt, is she obligated to undergo fertility treatments, which involve physical and mental difficulties, for her husband?

A: Firstly, in the general mitzvah, a woman has no less of a part than a man, and only in the context of the individual requirement is a man obligated and a woman exempt (see Peninei Halakha ibid, 5: 2 footnote 2). Second, after Rabbeinu Gershom’s decree was accepted, according to which it is forbidden for a husband to marry two women or to divorce his wife against her will, at the time of her wedding a woman agrees to participate with her husband in the obligation of the mitzvah (Chatam Sofer, E H. 20; ibid 5:14).

To Rely on Prayers Alone?

Those who claim it is enough to pray to Hashem, thinking, if Hashem wants, He will mercifully grant them special providence – are similar to a hungry person who doesn’t go to a store to buy bread, saying that if the Almighty wants, He will bring bread to his house. And as Rambam wrote (in his commentary on Mishnah Pesachim 4: 9) about the ‘Book of Remedies’ that Hezkiyahu hid, which should not be interpreted as the fools did, saying it contained true cures and Hezekiyahu hid it so that people would pray to Hashem. Anyone who interprets it in this way attributes to Hezekiyahu and his faction “foolishness that one should only associate with the lowliest of the masses. According to their erroneous and weak logic, if a person is starving, and then eats bread, he will undoubtedly be cured of his great pain — they  would say that he removed his trust in God. One should tell them they are deranged. Just as when I eat, I thank God that He created something to remove my hunger and to keep me alive and well, we should also thank Him for creating a cure that cures my illness when I need it.” Rather, the ‘Book of Remedies’ he hid, contained false medicines or dangerous drugs.

Similarly, Rabbi Yehuda Ayash (1688-1759) of Algeria, in his book, ‘Shevat Yehuda’, wrote that a sick person and his relatives are obligated to seek out a doctor and medicine to be healed. Anyone who is lazy and negligent in this matter, and is not careful to be cured in medicine naturally, but relies on a miracle that Hashem will send His word and heal him free of charge, is nothing but “of the puzzled and ignorant”, “and is close to being a heretic himself, and destined to be judged.” Just as a person must guard himself against heat and cold, and anyone who does not, rationalizing “If Hashem doesn’t want me to be sick, nothing bad will happen to me” is a fool – so it is in medical matters, that Hashem created the world for us to behave according to nature – some medicines are naturally beneficial, and others in a supernatural way, as explained in the Talmud. Our Sages also said it is forbidden for a Torah scholar to live in a place where there is no doctor (Sanhedrin 17b). Indeed, there were tzadikim (righteous people) answered by prayer and had no need for medication, however, they did not rely on a miracle, but were answered beforehand. And if a person lingers in his illness and does not go to the doctor to be cured by natural means, he will die of that same disease, and not as previously decreed for him to live longer; he is similar to someone who enters a fire sure to burn him, and will die an untimely death. This is the essence of what he wrote.

Erroneous Claims in the Name of Faith

It is true that in the words of Ramban in his commentary on the Torah (Bechukotai 26:11), it follows that it is proper for the righteous not to turn to medicine. This is how the righteous acted in the time of prophecy – if they were sick, they would not seek out doctors, rather prophets: “What is the purpose of a doctor in a house that does the will of Hashem? After we are assured by Him that He will bless our bread, our water, and remove sickness from our midst. And regarding the Torah obligating a person who injured his friend to pay his medical fees – this refers to those who wish to follow the paths of nature, “because the Torah does not rely its laws on miracles… because Hashem wanted the path of man to be that he should not deal with medicine or physicians.”  

However, the Ramban himself has already written that it is an obligatory mitzvah to draw on doctors and medicine, and it is even considered pikuach nefesh (preservation of life), just as a patient is fed on Yom Kippur, and Shabbat is desecrated for the preparation of medicine (Torat Ha’Adam, Shaar Ha’Mechush, on the issue of danger).

Some Torah scholars explained that the difference is between when prophecy rested in Israel – at that time the righteous relied on prophets – and when there is no prophecy and ruach ha’kodesh (Divine inspiration), at which time people are obligated to take advantage of doctors (Chida, 366:6; Divrei Yatziv, Likuteim 114).

Tested Medicine Must be Used

However, it appears that the main difference is in the type of medicine and drugs. All agree that a person whose life is in danger because of the fast of Yom Kippur is obligated to drink and eat and not to turn to God in prayer, because it is understood that drinking and eating will benefit him. Likewise, if a house collapsed upon a person, all agree that Shabbat must be desecrated by removing the rubble in order to save him. This is also the attitude towards any medical treatment proven and known to heal. On the other hand, there were drugs which in the opinion of doctors of that time were beneficial, but were far from certain, and concerning them, the Ramban, who was a doctor himself, wrote it would be better for the righteous to trust Hashem, and not to go to doctors.

However, when it comes to medical treatments that are proven to be beneficial in high percentages, Ramban would also agree that the righteous must go to doctors. Just as a person is required to eat and drink as needed in order to live, he is also obligated to take advantage of medical treatments known to be lifesaving. Similarly, a couple who cannot fulfill the mitzvah of pru u’revu naturally, are obligated to turn to fertility treatments, which in the last generation have proven to be very helpful.

In other words, after methods of scientific research have developed in recent generations, everything systematically tested and found to be very useful to a person’s health is considered part of the laws of nature, and must be used for curing. And what seems to be useful but its effectiveness is unclear and nevertheless doctors use it for lack of a better solution, falls into the general category of what Ramban wrote, namely, whoever wants to follow the ways of Hashem does not need medicine.

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

Chalav Nochri – Between Kashrut and Hiddur

Chalav Nochri – Between Kashrut and Hiddur

Chalav Nochri is forbidden from a Rabbinical prohibition out of concern that non-kosher milk was mixed in it; the question is, how concerned must we be * According to the lenient opinions, as long as there is no reasonable fear that non-kosher milk was mixed in, one can rely on large food companies not to mix in the milk of a non-kosher animal * According to strict opinions, even the milk of companies under close supervision is nevertheless considered chalav nochri and forbidden * There is a dispute whether the prohibition also applies to powdered milk * Halachically, chalav nochri of a supervised company is kosher, but in places where chalav Yisrael is common, such as in Israel, it is appropriate to be strict

Towards sundown of Monday evening, the 16th of Tevet, my beloved and dear cousin Tzur Hartuv suddenly died. All his family and loved ones were shocked, tearful, grieving, and pained. May it be His will that through the building of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, his wife and widow, his parents and brothers be comforted, and merit to raise sons and daughters, grandchildren and granddaughters, to Torah and mitzvoth.

Tzuri, as he was affectionately called, was the first to encourage me to write the laws of kashrut in the framework of ‘Peninei Halakha’, and to clarify the differences between kosher and mehadrin. As usual, he explained the need for this with compelling and heartening reasons. May the words of Torah in this column be for an elevation of his soul, and the fulfillment of his desire.

Chalav Nochri

Our Sages forbade Jews to consume milk that a non-Jew had milked, lest the non-Jew had mixed chalav tamei (milk produced from a non-kosher animal) with the chalav tahor (milk produced from a kosher animal) (Avoda Zara 35b). This, despite the fact that the chances of this happening are very low since the vast majority of milk that people drink, is chalav tahor. In addition, there is a difference between chalav tamei and chalav tahor, namely, the color of chalav tahor is white, while the color of chalav tamei is yellow, and therefore, if the milk is white and does not taste differently, even if the non-Jew mixed it with chalav tamei, from the Torah it is batel b’rov (nullified by majority) by the chalav tahor. Despite all this, our Sages were very strict and forbade the milk of a non-Jew, lest he mixed with it chalav tamei. Apparently, our Sages were stricter about this prohibition – as they were about additional foods of non-Jews – than on other food prohibitions, because of the general goal to distance Jews from foods of non-Jews as a barrier against assimilation.

However, when a Jew is careful that the non-Jew has not mixed chalav tahor with chalav tamei, the milk is kosher. If it is known for certain that the non-Jew has no non-kosher animals, it is sufficient for a Jew to observe that the non-Jew has not brought milk from another place during the process of milking. But if the non-Jew has a non-kosher animal, the Jew must supervise that he milks from a kosher animal. There is no need for him to see all of the milkings, rather, it is enough that the non-Jew knows that the Jew is supervising him not to milk a non-kosher animal and mix its’ milk with chalav tahor, and that he can easily be seen, for instance, if the non-Jew stands up he will see him milking, or that at any moment the Jew can come in and see what he is doing (Avoda Zara 39b; S. A., Y. D., 115: 1).

When there is No Fear of Chalav Tamei

The poskim disagree on the question of the scope of the prohibition. According to the first approach, only when there is a reasonable fear that the non-Jew will mix chalav tamei with chalav tahor, is the milk that a non-Jew milked forbidden. But in a place where no non-kosher animals are raised, or if the milk of a non-kosher animal is more expensive, there is no fear that the non-Jew will mix chalav tamei with chalav tahor, and it is permissible for a Jew living in such a place to consume milk milked by a non-Jew (Tashbatz, Rashbash, Pri Chadash, R. Chaim ben Atar). This was the minhag (custom) in most of the communities in North Africa and Yemen.

According to the second approach, even where there is no reasonable fear that the non-Jew will mix chalav tamei with chalav tahor, as long as there is some concern, even the most distant, it is forbidden for a Jew to consume milk that was milked by a non-Jew. In practice, since occasionally non-kosher animals were brought from place to place, and at times the non-Jews thought they would benefit by mixing chalav tahor with chalav tamei either to preserve it for a long time or to improve its taste, the poskim prohibited all milk milked by a non-Jew. An exception is milk that was milked in a closed place where it was impossible to bring in chalav tamei, in which case the poskim approved of its kashrut despite being milked without the supervision of a Jew. This was the minhag of many communities in the vicinity of Eretz Yisrael and in Ashkenaz (Chida, Beit Meir, Chochmat Adam).

According to the third approach, even when there is no fear that the non-Jew will mix chalav tamei with chalav tahor, the milk milked by a non-Jew is forbidden. The reason for this is that on the basis of fear the non-Jew might mix chalav tamei with chalav tahor, our Sages decreed a complete ban on any milk milked by a non-Jew without the supervision of a Jew, even if there is absolutely no fear. Some poskim instructed along these lines in practice (Chatam Sofer, Chelkat Yaakov).

Milk of Reliable Companies

Many poskim believe that since there is no fear, even remotely, that large companies marketing milk and milk products will include chalav tamei in their milk, in the opinion of most halachic authorities, even if the milk was milked by non-Jews without Jewish supervision, the prohibition of chalav goyim (milk milked by a non-Jew) does not apply to their milk, for this is the opinion of the first two approaches we learned, which the majority of Jews followed.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe, Y.D., 47-49) added that according to the strict approach, in countries that are regulated by law, it is possible to act leniently in regards to dairy products of companies that declare the milk and dairy products they market are produced from the milk of kosher animals. The reason being that if they deceive, they are liable to be fined; and no less severe – consumer confidence in their products may be affected, and they may lose many customers. Thus, the general supervision in these countries is considered similar to the supervision of a Jew supervising that chalav tahor is not mixed with chalav tamei, and consequently, according to all approaches, their milk is permitted. Therefore, in view of the difficulty in obtaining chalav Yisrael outside of Israel, Rabbi Feinstein permitted relying on the credibility of the supervised companies, and this is the policy of the largest kashrut organization in the United States, the OU.

Those who are Stringent Concerning Dairy Companies

On the other hand, there are those who are stringent for two main reasons: 1) perhaps government supervision is not strict enough, and even if it is, lest people learn from this to act leniently even in places that are not properly supervised. 2) They accept the approach that holds that the prohibition of milk milked by a non-Jew is a complete prohibition (third approach), and therefore, even if there is no fear that chalav tamei will be mixed in, the milk is forbidden because it is milked by a non-Jew. According to this view, government supervision is not considered to be the supervision of a Jew permitted by our Sages (Chelkat Yaakov Y. D. 34; Mishnah Halachot 4: 103). Before explaining the practical halakha, I will continue to the question of avkat chalav (powdered milk).

Powdered Milk

Another controversy arose over avkat chalav, i.e., milk that had its fluids evaporated by heat until there remains only powder. Powdered milk is used to flavor products such as chocolate, when the concentrated taste of milk and its ingredients is desired, without the extra volume of the liquid. It is also possible to preserve powdered milk for a long time, and when necessary, to add water and obtain a drink similar to regular milk, with almost all its nutritional components. Regarding the prohibition of meat and milk, powdered milk has the same halakha as regular milk, but regarding the prohibition of chalav goyim, the poskim disagree.

The majority of poskim are lenient, since the gezera (decree) was on milk, and not on a new product made from it. And just as the poskim had to make an additional decree on cheese, without which cheese would have been permitted, similarly, without a special decree on powdered milk – as long as it is known to have been made from the milk of a kosher animal, it is permitted to be eaten.

Some poskim are strict because in their opinion the gezera of milk also applies to powdered milk since powdered milk is the milk itself without its fluids. The reason our Sages had to make a special gezera on cheese is that cheese can only be made from the milk of a kosher animal that is capable of curdling, and therefore it was necessary to decree a special gezera on cheese made by non-Jews for other reasons. However, powdered milk can also be made from chalav tamei, and thus the gezera of milk also applies to it.

The Practical Halakha for Dairy Products

In the principle disagreement over milk and powdered milk produced by large and regulated companies, the halakha goes according to the lenient opinion, because this is the opinion of the majority of the poskim of the Rishonim and Achronim and their reasoning is convincing; additionally, the general rule is that in disputes in Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinances), halakha follows the lenient opinion. As for powdered milk, there is more room for the lenient position, since some of the poskim who are machmir (strict) in regards to chalav nochri, are lenient when it comes to avkat chalav. However, the Jewish nation is virtuous, and as long as the strict opinion does not involve high costs, the custom is to be meticulous in regards to the opinions of all the poskim, as is the custom of all Rabbinates in Israel concerning chalav nochri. But in chutz l’aretz (outside of Israel), when it is difficult to obtain chalav Yisrael, the principle halakha goes according to the lenient opinion.

Additional Questions about the Kashrut of Milk

The issue of the kashrut of milk and dairy products is more complex since there are two more problems: 1) safek treifot, i.e., the possibility that in the wake of surgeries cows undergo, it may render them treif. 2) The combining of additional powders produced from milk. I will explain in further detail:

Today, it is customary to perform various operations on animals, such as the cesarean section of an animal having difficulty giving birth, or the puncturing of the abdomen to remove dangerous gases. Although following these operations cows live longer than 12 months, some poskim say such operations render them treif, and consequently, their milk is forbidden to consume. In practice, in every cowshed that is not supervised by halachic supervision, chances are there are cows considered treif according to the stringent poskim, and the amount of kosher milk is not sixty times as high, and thus, the milk and powdered milk produced from such cowsheds are forbidden in their opinion.

The second problem is that there are other powders made from milk, such as casein that contains milk proteins, and lactose-containing sugars from milk and some poskim believe that when they are made from residual liquids of cheese, the prohibition of gevinat goyim (cheese produced by non-Jews) applies to them.

In practice, concerning both of these questions, the principle halakha goes according to the lenient opinion. In regards to the fear that cows are treifot – in the opinion of many poskim, such surgeries do not render the cows treif – the fact is, they live for more than twelve months. And even if we relate to this question as a safek (doubtful), since from the Torah the milk of treif animals is batel b’rov ragil (nullified by a regular majority), halakha goes according to the lenient opinion even if there are not sixty times as much. Also, in regards to powdered milk produced from the residual milk of cheese, it is doubtful whether the prohibition of gevinat goyim applies to them, and in a safek Divrei Chachamim, halakha goes according to the lenient opinion.

Halakha Summary

It is possible to grant kashrut certification to milk and dairy products that have been milked by non-Jews for large and regulated companies, and this is the practice of various kosher organizations, including the OU.

Those who wish to be strict are meticulous on all four issues mentioned, and this is the definition of mehadrin kosher dairy products.

In the regular kashrut of the Rabbinates in Israel, it is customary to be meticulous on an intermediate level – they are strict in regards to milk milked by non-Jews, and follow the principle halakha in regards to powdered milk of non-Jews, as well as the two other issues.

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

Time has Come to Connect to the European Right

Time has Come to Connect to the European Right

Matteo Salvini, the Italian Deputy Prime Minister and a leading candidate for Prime Minister, visited Israel and expressed enthusiastic support for it – but the political Left preferred to ignore his warm feelings, and accuse him of anti-Semitism * Regrettably, President Rivlin also failed to respect the important guest, and could not make time to meet with him * The Left are still confined to the concept that it is preferable for Israel to tighten its ties with the European Leftist parties, disregarding the situation in Europe – it is precisely the Right that is growing stronger, and it is also renouncing the anti-Semites

The Friend from Italy

Last week Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, Interior Minister, and head of the ‘Northern League’ party, Matteo Salvini, many of whom believe will eventually be elected Prime Minister, arrived in Israel. Matteo is considered a friend of the State of Israel. Before his visit, he told a Ma’ariv reporter that “Israel is an example of democracy in the world. I feel honored to visit Israel. Italians have a lot to learn from her. Israel should sit alongside the most developed democracies in Western Europe. We must strengthen ties between the two countries … and contribute to strengthening its borders.” His associates believe that if given the power, chances are he will transfer the Italian embassy to Jerusalem.

During his visit, he met with the Prime Minister and other dignitaries, and declared that he was “proud to be here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Anyone who wants peace must support and defend Israel. Israel is a bastion for the defense of Europe and the Middle East.” He called Hezbollah members “terrorists”. When his Left-wing rivals in Italy, who tend to support Israel’s enemies, attacked him for this, he replied on his Facebook page: “It’s strange to read in the Italian press that some people were shocked when I called Islamist terrorists by their name… if we do not define our opponent… it is impossible to win this game.”

Criticism from the Left

The Israeli Left criticized the government for the warm reception given to Matteo Salvini. Knesset Member Tamar Zandberg said: “Netanyahu reaches out to fascist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic leaders.” In other words, according to her, one who respects Israel, is committed to the struggle against anti-Semitism, and even works for it in Europe in cooperation with the World Jewish Congress, and supports Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, is an anti-Semite and a fascist – in contrast to Abu Mazen, denier of the Holocaust and supporter of terrorism, and all his cohorts, who are respected friends. They, of course, are not anti-Semites or fascists…

Salvini is the head of the largest party in the Italian parliament. If the Italian people are concerned about refugees, its apprehension and position should be respected, rather than putting him in line with all those who hate Israel, spitting on him and his people, and moreover, claiming that it is done for moral reasons.

A Disgraceful President

Reuven Rivlin, who whenever interviewed in the media, opens his statements by pronouncing in an impassioned voice: “This is Ruvi Rivlin from Jerusalem”, who made his political fortune from being a descendant of the builders of Jerusalem, could not find the time to meet Salvini for a quarter of an hour, shake his hand, and strengthen his support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – due to his “crowded schedule” of visiting children in kindergartens. Perhaps in his visit, he made a commitment to tell the young children it is forbidden to oppose assimilation, or that Arabs, like Jews, have equal rights to the Land of Israel. It’s regrettable to see how President Rivlin repeatedly humiliates the people and the state and harms Israel’s international standing, while at the same time flatters the Left, who continually distance themselves from sane political positions.

If we were talking about a refined public figure, one who had never met with individuals above reproach, in character or opinion, it would be understandable. However, after the fact that Rivlin sits fawningly with interviewers from the international media – who repeatedly spread blood libels about Israel, and lecture about the settlers dripping with venom – he still dares to refuse a meeting with the friends of the State of Israel?! If the president has a role, then it is to receive such dignitaries with honor, and certainly not to create provocations in opposition to elected officials of a large and important nation.

Support for the European Left – Short-Sightedness

In addition to the moral hypocrisy of Rivlin and the Left, it also signifies political shortsightedness. They persist in telling themselves the story that the more they align with the liberal Left in various countries, the stronger the State of Israel will be. They pay no attention, however, to two fundamental facts: First, in all European countries and other important regions in the world, the national Right is growing stronger, and therefore, the main political effort today must be devoted to cultivating ties with Right-wing parties. Second, the Left is becoming increasingly anti-Semitic, for example, the British Labor Party, which even Left-wing English Jews, members of the Labor Party, admit to it being anti-Semitic today.

Support for the European Right – a Solution to Anti-Semitism

True, in the European Right there remain remnants of murderous nationalism, the legacy of generations of the past. However, it is precisely the connection between the Right-wing parties and the State of Israel that is the best remedy for this, because this connection refines and distances them from the evil anti-Semites, who are unable to bear the connection with the State of Israel.

In other words, the only way to combat anti-Semitism is through a healthy connection of the State of Israel with the emerging national movements in Europe and throughout the world. And the only way to eradicate murderous nationalism is precisely a position of healthy nationalism, designed to express the unique identity of each nation.

On the other hand, the attempt of Diaspora Jews to eradicate national identities evokes the terrible demons of murderous nationalism. While their flawed and destructive stance does not in any way justify physical or verbal harm to Jews, nevertheless, the facts must be recognized – the extreme Leftist Jews in the world, determined to counteract the foundations of the national identity of various countries, provokes enormous hatred towards the Jewish people.

More about Vaccinations

Following my previous column on the obligation to be vaccinated, a number of women wrote me with questions and complaints about how I expressed a halachic position on the basis of the opinion of one doctor, and questioned if it was not appropriate to study the issue thoroughly and ask numerous doctors.

Answer: I did not study the vaccine issue, and I do not intend to, because halakha does not deal with clarifying issues of medicine – rather, it is only after doctors form a professional position that halakha determines, according to Torah values, what is forbidden and what is permitted, what is obligatory and what is a mitzvah. Out of trust in the medical system, we vaccinated our children without asking a doctor. However, in order to write an answer for the public, I found it necessary to consult with a God-fearing, experienced, and wise doctor, to know the weight of the claims of those opposed to vaccines in accordance with the opinion of experts and researchers in the field, expressed by health organizations throughout the world. According to this, I wrote it is an obligation to vaccinate.

Do Not Falsely Accuse Doctors

Some people accused doctors of taking bribes from the pharmaceutical companies to spread the “lie” of the obligation to be vaccinated, and thus increase the profits of the companies. They also claimed that any doctor who dared to oppose vaccines would have his corrupted colleagues make sure he was fired.

This argument must be firmly and completely rejected. First, blaming an entire group of doctors with malice is a grave sin. Even when disagreeing and arguing, nevertheless, the debate should be kept in check, and libelous accusations must not be made. For example, the doctor I asked is known to me as a righteous and God-fearing person, and it is inconceivable for him to express a position endangering life for financial gain. Moreover, without firm proof that doctors take bribes, it is forbidden to say such a thing, and anyone who says so transgresses the prohibitions of loshon ha’ra (derogatory speech about another person) and motzi shem ra (defamation), which are among the most serious prohibitions in the Torah. There may be doctors and researchers who lie, but to accuse an entire group of doctors, people involved in saving lives, of lying in exchange for money, is appalling.

Besides, this argument is senseless, since the pharmaceutical companies cannot bribe all the doctors. Moreover, any doctor or laboratory researcher who discovered something problematic with one of the drugs would earn eternal glory. And while pharmaceutical companies tend to finance and publish studies encouraging the use of their products, they cannot bribe all researchers in all laboratories not to reveal problems in them.

The Kashrut of Milk for Example

From the issue of kashrut of milk, one can learn how to apply the rules of rov (majority) and chazaka (presumption) in halakha, which I have also applied to the topic of vaccinations and doctors – that we rely on the majority of doctors, and rely on the presumption of each and every doctor to be trustworthy until proven differently. I will preface by saying that this is a complex issue, which can be difficult for someone who is not used to studying Gemara and poskim.

As is known, milk milked from a treif (non-kosher) animal is forbidden to be consumed. A treif animal is one that a predator tried to devour but did not succeed, however, as a result of its injury, it is known that it will not live for more than twelve months. Similarly, any animal that has a defect or disease that is known to cause its death within twelve months is considered treif. Since death gnaws at the flesh of the treif animal, even if it is ritually slaughtered, its flesh is forbidden to eat. And since its flesh is forbidden to eat, its milk is also forbidden to be consumed. A treif animal that got mixed in a herd and was milked together with the other animals – if the kosher animals were sixty times more than the treif animal, all the milk milked from the herd is kosher, but if they were not sixty times more, all the milk is forbidden (S. A. Y. D. 81: 1-2).

According to this a difficulty arises, for it is known that among the cows we milk, at least ten percent of the cows are treif as a result of sirchot (adhesions) of the lungs, and since they are at the rate of mi’ut ha’matzuy (a significant minority), from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinic ordinance), they are obligated to be examined after slaughtering in order to permit their meat to be eaten. Since it is impossible to check them while they are alive, how is cow’s milk permitted when it is known that the mi’ut ha’matzuy of cows are treif, and there are not sixty times as many cows not treif in comparison to them?

Rashi (Responsa Rashi, 60) explained that since it is impossible to examine the cow before the slaughter, we rely on the principle Torah law that we follow the majority of cows that are not treif. This is agreed upon by the Rishonim and Acharonim. Another important foundation clarified by Shibolei Ha’Leket is the general rule that as long as we haven’t seen that the cow is treif, the milk is b’chezkat heter (presumed to be permitted). And even though, in practice, after the slaughter we find certain percentages of treifot, as long as the cows are not slaughtered, the milk of each cow is b’chezkat kosher, since no ri’uta (a fact that weakens the power of chazaka) arose in regards to the cow from it was milked. This is the essence of this complex issue, through which one can clearly understand the rules of rov and chazaka, which every Jewish household follows daily when eating dairy products.

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

The Obligation to Vaccinate

The vaccine against measles is vital and necessary * The scientific claims against the vaccine are based on research proven to be false * The halakhic rule that we follow the majority is also true in the field of medicine: if there is disagreement, we go according to the position of the majority of doctors * A person cannot exempt himself from being vaccinated and rely on the immunity of others, just as it is immoral to evade the army or not pay taxes and rely on the rest of society * Even on winter Sabbaths, ideally, the time of the Mincha prayer should be set sufficiently before Shabbat begins, in order to accept Shabbat before sunset

Question about Vaccinations

Rabbi, Shalom. My name is Shira Blitz from Neriah, a mother who is worried about the health of her children, who reads a great deal about vaccinations, but nevertheless, realizes her lack of knowledge on the subject. I learned a lot from medical professionals as part of counseling, and also from those who devote their time beyond working hours to explain. Accordingly, my children are immunized.

After years of reading on social networks, it is clear that there is a great deal of confusion among the public about vaccines, and a widespread and dangerous perception that everyone is able to understand and reach an “informed” decision on these matters as a result of his ability to use Google, where all the sources are evenly balanced and each side is legitimate. Unfortunately, there are others voicing opinions counter to scientific knowledge that are gaining momentum mainly in the religious public.

My feeling, and the feeling of many others, is that the public needs clear guidance on this matter. This is especially true today, following the outbreak of measles, for which there is a large amount of misinformation on the Internet in ever-increasing dimensions. We are asking you, Rabbi, to deal with this subject, especially from the halachic aspect, in your column ‘Revivim’. I believe that an authoritative halachic ruling on the matter will benefit many of the undecided and contribute to the public’s health – especially to the safety of those whose immune systems are weak due to illness or age, and are currently in increased danger.

Answer: The Vaccine is Essential, the Risk is Negligible

As in every case, I turned to the person most expert in the field who I am familiar with, Dr. Rafi Cayam, a pediatrician in his specialization, who for many years has served as the regional physician for the Leumit HMO in the Jerusalem area, and most of the settlements in Judea and Samaria. Most of the residents of our community also use his services.

He said the measles vaccine was essential as measles are one of the most contagious diseases. As to whether this vaccine had a risk, he replied that there was almost no risk, to the point where it is possible to say there is no risk at all. In other words, everything has a certain risk – including walking on the street—but such negligible risks are not taken into consideration.

The claims against the vaccine, which supposedly causes autism, mental retardation, or brain damage, have no foundation. The main research that the vaccine opponents relied upon turned out to be false, and was written for lawyers to support a lawsuit against drug companies. After the writer of the bogus research admitted to falsifying, his doctor’s license was revoked, and the newspaper that published the study expressed regret for its publication.

While the vaccine has a 97% rate of effectiveness, nevertheless, when such a percentage of the population is immunized, even those three percent are protected. On the other hand, when groups of people are not vaccinated, the public’s general vaccination is no longer beneficial to them, nor to people who have been immunized – including those three percent – and the disease spreads to people whose immune system has been weakened by illness or old age as well.

We Follow the Majority

The basis for relying on the position of the majority of physicians is from the Torah, as it is stated regarding a dispute in the Beit Din (religious court) between the dayanim (judges): “A case must be decided on the basis of the majority” (Exodus 23: 2). From this our Sages learned that all laws follow the majority (see, Chulin 11a-b). And in disputes between doctors, we also follow the majority (S. A., O. C. 618; Peninei Halakha: Yamim Nora’im 8: 5). All the more so here, where apparently there is no medical position based on studies and tested facts that repudiates the vaccines.

Incidentally, anyone who does not trust the rule that the majority is followed will find himself in doubts and problems his entire life. This is because he cannot rely on any kashrut certificate, lest the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) is corrupt – and even if he is honest – maybe the owner of the business was able to deceive him; he cannot drink milk either, because maybe the cow from which the milk came from had a sircha (adhesion) on its lungs rendering it treif (not kosher); he cannot marry because maybe he was not informed of everything involved; he cannot have children, for who knows how they will turn out; and he cannot travel, because maybe an accident might occur.

The Moral Problem of Non-Immunization

Parents who do not want to vaccinate their children, however, can argue they are not required to follow the majority, for if they alone do not vaccinate their children, nothing will happen (and they too benefit from the vaccination of others…). However, this position is based on an immoral point of view, because if everyone behaves in this manner, the population will not be vaccinated, and serious and contagious diseases will turn into epidemics.

This position is the same as that of a person claiming that if he alone avoids military service, the security of the state will not be harmed, because one less soldier will not change the state of national security (and he too benefits from the protection provided by those who do enlist …). However, if everyone prefers his own personal safety and comfort, our situation will be dreadful.

Similarly in respect to income tax – if a one says that nothing will happen if he does not pay – the state’s defense, education, health, and transportation systems, etc., and society at large, will manage with the taxes of everyone else (and he too will benefit from all this good…). However, if more people prefer their personal welfare, society as a whole will collapse, and all the positive things done with taxes will be lost.

This claim is so strong morally, to the point where if one says to a person, “Kill your friend, if not, we will kill you,” he is obligated to give up his life, and not to transgress and kill his friend. And the rationale: “What reason do you see for thinking that your blood is redder? Perhaps his blood is redder?! (Pesachim 25b).

Do Not Separate Yourself from the Community

In relation to this, Hillel the Elder said: “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Avot 2: 4). Our Sages also said: “When the community is in distress, and one of them separates himself and goes to eat and drink, two ministering angels accompany him, lay coals on his head, and say “So and so separated himself from the community in the time of their troubles, he will not see the consolations of the community.” (Pesikta Zutra, Exodus 2: 11).

As long as we are speaking about expression of a position and public debate, different opinions should also be encouraged. Moreover, thanks to the criticism of vaccinations, the pharmaceutical companies and health authorities will most likely take extreme care, and do their best to minimize the risks. After all, however, one should act according to the vast majority of doctors, who over the last few generations have succeeded in eradicating epidemics that have at times caused the death of millions of people.

In addition, public officials have the responsibility of examining the formation of procedures in the education system and the like, that will protect the immunized public from those who are not.

‘Tosefet Shabbat‘ for Those Who are Late to Pray Mincha

Q: In our synagogue we finish the Mincha prayer of Erev Shabbat after shkiya (sunset), especially during the winter. Is it preferable to pray Mincha b’yachid (alone) in order to fulfill the mitzvah of tosefet Shabbat (accepting the holiness of Shabbat upon ourselves a bit before the start of the seventh day) before shkiya, or to pray with the public and forgo tosefet Shabbat?

The Mitzvah of Tosefet Shabbat

First I will explain that it is a mitzvah from the Torah to extend the sanctity of Shabbat into the mundane week (Yoma 81b; S. A. O. C. 261:2, and Biur Halakha). Kabbalat Shabbat is performed verbally, and women are accustomed to accept Shabbat with the lighting of candles and reciting the blessing over them.

This extension of Shabbat demonstrates that Shabbat is very dear to us. We go out to greet it before its arrival, and we prolong its stay by accompanying it upon departure. It is like an honored guest whom we go out to greet and whom we escort when it is time to take leave. This mitzvah teaches us that there is a connection between the weekdays and Shabbat, which is why we can add from the mundane to the sacred. We can also see, based on this, the inner striving of the mundane to be connected to the sacred.

In practice, the answer is divided into two – one for the individual, and another for the public (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 3: 5, footnote 6).

How an Individual Should Act

If one finished the Silent Prayer before shkiya, he can accept upon himself tosefet Shabbat by saying, “Bo’i kalla, Shabbat ha-malka” (“Enter O bride, O Shabbat queen”), by saying “Ani mekabel al atzmi tosefet Shabbat” (“I hereby accept upon myself tosefet Shabbat“), or any other language expressing the acceptance of Shabbat, for the fact that the chazzan (cantor) has not yet completed the repetition of the Mincha prayer does not prevent him from accepting Shabbat.

And if he is also unable to finish the Silent Prayer before shkiya, l’chatchila (ideally), he should say the Mincha prayer beforehand individually, because some poskim are of the opinion that it is impossible to accept tosefet Shabbat and then recite the weekday Mincha prayer (S. A. 263; M.B. 43:60).

Bedi’avad (after the fact), if one was unable to pray beforehand, or in a situation where he prefers not to pray individually, he can accept tosefet Shabbat and then pray Mincha, relying on the poskim who believe it is permissible to accept Shabbat and then pray the weekday Mincha (Tzitz Eliezer, Minchat Yitzchak, and according to Yabia Omer, one should accept Shabbat in thought).

How the Public Should Act

Regarding the public, l’chatchila, the prayer should be set at the latest twenty minutes before shkiya, so that they can finish Mincha and accept Shabbat. Then, immediately after the end of Mincha, the gabbai should announce: “Bo’i kalla, Shabbat ha-malka“, and by doing so, everyone fulfills the mitzvah of tosefet Shabbat. But if they act like many synagogues do, who do not announce this and rely on the piyut of “Lecha Dodi” in which Shabbat is accepted, they will miss the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah.

Bedi’avad, when it is impossible to pray Mincha earlier, they should choose one or the other: either to recite a short prayer (without the complete repetition of the shaliach tzibbur), so that they will be able to announce the acceptance of Shabbat before shkiya, or before Mincha, the gabbai should announce “Bo’i kalla, Shabbat ha-malka“, and rely on the poskim who believe it is possible to pray the weekday Mincha after accepting Shabbat (Tzitz Eliezer, Minchat Yitzchak). There is also an opinion that the gabbai should announce that everyone should accept Shabbat upon himself in thought, and then recite the weekday Mincha (Yabia Omer).

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

The Dilemma of Heter Ha’Mechira – New Revelations

The new book “U’be’Shana Ha’Shevi’it”, the first volume of a comprehensive study on the historical background of the ‘heter mechira’, reveals the factual data on the state of the moshavot * As an issue based on historical background, research by a Torah scholar can help clarify the dispute * The book, fruit of the long work of Rabbi Dr. Boaz Hutterer, reflects the dilemma of the settlers: to rely on donations because in any case, agricultural work leads to losses, or to build a settlement that stands on its own feet * The real dilemma is based on a fundamental disagreement about what faith is – relying on miracles, or the calculated and planned fulfillment of mitzvoth

A New Book – ‘U’be’Shana Ha’Shevi’it’ (‘And in the Seventh Year’)

Recently, the first volume of the study of Rabbi Dr. Boaz Hutterer, rabbi in the Yeshiva of Har Bracha, was published as part of the Har Bracha Institute. The title of the book is ‘U’be’Shana Ha’Shevi’it’, and deals with Jewish agricultural settlement in the Land of Israel and the attitude towards Shmittah (Sabbatical year), focusing on the great controversies regarding the heter mechirah (the sale of Israeli farmland to a non-Jew to avoid the prohibition of working the land in Israel during the Shmittah year). The first volume is devoted to the period from the time of the Ottoman conquest until late 1888 (the beginning of the period of the First Aliya).

The Question of the Research: How Distressful were the Times?

In the year 2014, while I was writing ‘Peninei Halakha’ on the subject of Shmittah, I learned about the great controversy regarding the heter ha’mechira, which is one of the central halakhic controversies of our time. I felt a great lack of knowledge about the economic-agricultural situation of the settlements, since the crux of the dispute is about the reality of the situation at the time – how distressful was it? This is because according to halakhic rules, Shmittah in our times is of Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance) or minhag (custom), and since there is some doubt as to when the Shmittah year actually is, in times of great distress it is possible to allow all types of agricultural work in the Shmittah year. But if the poskim were of the opinion that the distress was not so great, it is possible to be a little more stringent, and permit work in the Shmittah year by way of selling the land to a non-Jew. And if they thought that the distress was not great, it would be appropriate to be more stringent, and permit work of the land by means of mechira, while work whose foundation stems from the Torah would be done by non-Jews, as they permitted in practice in the heter mechira. If there is no distress, all work must be ceased.

The Comprehensive Study of Rabbi Dr. Boaz Hutterer

I turned to Rabbi Boaz Hutterer, who for many years studied and taught at the Har Bracha Yeshiva and at the same time also completed his doctorate in history, asking him to clarify to the best of his ability the economic situation of the early settlements of Eretz Yisrael – how successful they were economically, and how dependent they were on donations. What was the ratio between the donations received by the urban settlement in Jerusalem, which was called the “Old Yishuv”, and the donations received by the agricultural settlement in the moshavot? How much of the tension around the donations was at the root of the controversy in its early stages? And who was right in assessment of the economic reality in the settlement?

Rabbi Boaz engrossed himself in all the issues. His research reaches the level of detail of the cost of maintaining one family in the moshavot and Jerusalem, the cost of establishing and maintaining an agricultural settlement, the cost of buying the land, and the cost of legal dealings with the Ottoman regime and hostile Arabs. His research presents the economic plans of the founders of the various moshavot and their supporters, their dreams, their numerous failures and their limited successes, as written in those days in letters, personal diaries, and newspaper articles. For almost four years he spent a great amount of time researching this book, and now the first volume of a series of at least three volumes has been published, where in the third volume he will reach the Shmittot where Rav Kook was the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa and the moshavot.

After reading his book, I realized how much the research of a professional historian who is also a Torah scholar can contribute to the understanding of reality in general, and to the understanding of the halakhic questions in particular.

The Controversy about the Goal

My first conclusion from studying the book is that reality as a whole was complex, and since everything was new and unfamiliar, it made reality even more complex. Consequently, it is possible to understand both sides, since each side had in fact found support for its position. The root of the dispute stems from a deeper disagreement in understanding the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz (the commandment to settle the Land), and the question what is the belief in God and His Torah, which influenced the analysis of reality as well.

Everyone agreed that the situation of the settlers was distressful, but in the opinion of the opponents of the heter mechirah, they should be helped with tzedakah, and to prohibit work in the Shmittah year, since the result of their work was a loss in any case. In other words, the cost of the seeds, the seedlings, animals for labor, and work tools was higher than the profit in the meager crop that grew in their fields. So that in any case the settlers needed donations, and since the cost of maintaining them while they ceased working would be cheaper than maintaining them in work that leads to losses, why shouldn’t the donors contribute to the stoppage of work in the Shmittah year? Moreover, we learned in the Torah that because of the violation of the Shmittah we were exiled from our Land, and therefore precisely thanks to the observance of Shmittah we would merit to settle in it.

On the other hand, the supporters of the heter mechira believed that the settlers must find the way to make a living from their own labor, and not to rely on donations. And even if in the meanwhile they fail and need donations, they must learn lessons and continue to work diligently in order to reach a state where they could stand on their own, so that the donations were actually a long-term investment, which with the right work would yield handsome profits. And it should not be claimed that in the merit of the mitzvah to cease working they would receive a blessing, for Shmittah at this time is a rabbinical ordinance, and the blessings of the Torah do not apply. Besides that, it is forbidden to rely upon miracles, and since in reality one can see that the settlers are unable to make a living, the requirement for a heter mechira is necessary – both until the stage where they learn how to make a living, and also until the stage where they are able to earn a living. But if they were to cease work for one year out of seven, they would return to a state of distress, and require charity. In addition, the need for charity is seen by many as a more serious sin.

Who was Right?

There are different levels of ‘times of distress’, and the greatest distress is one that does not allow a person to exist, to the point where he is forced to move to another location, or in the case of yishuv ha’aretz – prevents him from immigrating to Israel because he cannot exist there. And who determines whether it is possible to exist? Those who choose to live there.

The conclusion that emerges from the book is that the position of ‘Chovevei Tzion‘ and all the people who worked to encourage Jews to immigrate to Israel, was that if the masses of the Jewish world heard that they were ceasing to work in the Shmittah year, and relying on help from Heaven, or the collection of tzedakah, many Jews would refrain from immigrating to Israel. And no less serious, the big donators to the purchase of land and yishuv ha’aretz, headed by Baron Rothschild, would not continue to contribute, since their position was that settlement must be based on productive work (see p. 149, p. 235).

On page 106, an editorial is presented by a Jewish newspaper in London, which rejected immigration to Israel on the grounds that the obligations imposed by the commandments do not allow economic existence in Israel. Even Karl Netter, one of the founders of the ‘Mikveh Yisrael’ agricultural school, who was a key activist in the ‘Kol Yisrael Chaverim‘ organization for the benefit of Jewish immigrants, also wrote an influential article in 1882, in which he claimed that it was difficult to settle many Jews in Israel, partly due to the limitations of the mitzvoth of ma’aser (tithes) and Shmittah. Therefore, in practice, on behalf of the strong organization ‘Kol Yisrael Chaverim‘, he helped the emigration of Jewish refugees to the United States (ibid., P. 107).

Similarly, it is told (ibid., Pp. 115-113) that in the wake of the riots in Russia and the waves of emigration from there, Yechiel Brill, the editor of the newspaper ‘Ha’Levanon’, sought to encourage aliyah to Israel and not to America, for fear that they would lose their faith there. But when they turned to Dr. Levison, the representative of the London Committee which helped refugees emigrate to America and Western Europe, Dr. Levison replied that he did not encourage immigration to Israel because of the halachic obligation to observe the commandments there. This position influenced Brill, to the point where he began supporting the settlement of Jews outside the borders of ‘olei Bavel‘ in order to free themselves of the mitzvot dependent on the Land.

Rabbis who realized this difficulty felt that all the types of work should be permitted in the Shmittah year without any mechira. Thus, for example, was the opinion of two of the greatest Torah scholars, Rabbi Lapidot from Reisen and Rabbi Eliashberg from Bausk (ibid., Pg. 117). However, in practice, they permitted heterim that were not as lenient, which many of the members of Chovevei Tzion did not believe were sufficient.

Jewish Immigration

During the period of the First and Second Aliyah, from 1880 to 1914, as a result of the growing difficulties in Eastern Europe where 80% of the world’s Jews lived – most of them in poverty – there was a large migration of two million Jews to Western countries. The United States had 1,700,000 Jews, Argentina – 100,000, France – 80,000, Canada – 60,000, and South Africa – 50,000. To our homeland, the place to which we are commanded to immigrate, only 60,000 made aliyah (ibid., P. 104).

The main reason for this was because the land was desolate, the government controlling it was hostile, corrupt and cruel, and existing in the land was difficult. But the easier it was to earn a living, the more immigration increased; however, the harder it became, the fewer Jews immigrated.

Baron Hirsch and Baron Rothschild

In those years (1882-1888), Baron Rothschild’s contributions stood at £ 1.5 million, and he was prepared to contribute only in order for the settlement to stabilize economically. Due to this position, he was considered a dreamer and a radical believer among his wealthy friends, because they did not believe that the settlements in the Land of Israel could stand on their own feet, and consequently, they directed their tremendous donations to purposes which in their opinion were more useful, such as the absorption of Jews in Western countries. It can be assumed that if they had believed in the chances of settlement in Israel to exist and even grow, the aid to the building of the Land would have been tenfold, since at least ten Jews at the time could have contributed sums similar to, and even greater than, that of Baron Rothschild.

For example, Baron Hirsch, who was the richest man in Europe, sought to save the Jewish refugees from Russia by resettling them in droves as farmers in countries of the New World. To this end, he gave the Jewish Colonization Association, the Jewish settlement company he founded, eight million pounds Sterling. To understand the size of the sum, it should be noted that at less than £ 5 million, England bought its share in the Suez Canal at the time.

What is Emunah

If we delve further, we find that the dispute concerns the nature of emunah (faith). Opponents of the mechira believed that emunah is to rely on the belief that if work was ceased in the Shmittah year, God would help, but in the meantime, it was possible to exist on donations. The proponents of the mechira believed that it was possible to devise a rational plan to fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz without relying on miracles or donations.

This is a dispute between the Torah of Chutz l’aretz, revealed only in heaven and resting on a miracle such as the manna and quail that descended to our forefathers in the desert from heaven, and the Torah of the Land of Israel that reveals that Hashem is the God in Heaven and Earth, and that all nature and His wisdom rooted in man are God’s creation, and the mitzvoth are meant to be fulfilled according to the exact rules of halakha which require that we take into consideration reality, according to the facts before us. Only this path is the true way of Torah, and only in this manner are blessings, revelation of the Shekhina, and Redemption merited.

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

The Customs that Survived Thanks to Yemenite Jews

Although there is no room for separate yeshivas along the lines of ethnic groups, nevertheless, the prayers and customs of the different ethnic groups should be continued * The tradition of each ethnic group preserves certain values, and if one tradition is lost, some of the values ​​of the Jewish people are lost * The Yemenite Jews preserved the original custom in many halakha’s: the reading of the Torah by each person called up to the Torah, the consumption of permitted grasshoppers, Birkat Ha’Shachar according to the way one wakes-up in the morning, and others * Most ethnic groups do not cook liquids on Shabbat, but when guests are hosted by a Yemenite family, it is permitted to eat the soup, since the hosts acted properly according to their minhag

The Dedication of the Yemenite Synagogue

By the grace of God, a few hours before this column is printed, we will celebrate the dedication of the Yemenite synagogue in the community and Yeshiva of Har Bracha (the synagogue was built with the participation of the Yeshiva on the floor above the dining room). This joyous mitzvah also carries an educational and principled statement concerning the value of preserving the customs of ethnic groups. Although in the study of Torah, distinctions between ethnic groups should not be made, and there is no need for separate yeshiva’s for the various communities, nevertheless, in regards to the wording of prayer’s and their melodies, it is appropriate to follow one’s family minhag (custom).

Education towards Torah and emunah (faith) is based on two main channels: one is learning and understanding, and the other is tradition and emotion. In the sense of “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction (Torah), and do not forsake your mother’s teaching (tradition).” When one of the channels is impaired, the entire education is harmed. Therefore, in the framework of the yeshiva as well, we encourage students to pray the Shacharit Shabbat prayers according to the nusach avot (their family melodies and texts), where in each minyan, a Rabbi from the yeshiva is present. The Yemenite minyan merited a higher level – it is led by three rabbis from the yeshiva – Rabbi Eyal Moshe, Rabbi Oren Dachbash and Rabbi Barel Shevach (on Shabbat there are also superb minyans according to Sephardic-Yerushalmi, Moroccan and Ashkenazi nusachs, and other minyans that combine nusach Sephardi and Ashkenazi). The regular minyans during the week go according to the chazzan (cantor).

Moreover, every tradition has important values ​​without which all of Israel would be lacking. This value is especially prominent in the tradition of the Yemenite immigrants, who were meticulous in maintaining their customs and traditions. Therefore, thanks to the study of Yemenite customs, it is possible to understand the roots of the halakha, and customs of all of the Jewish communities. It seems that this devotion to tradition is what helped many Yemenites – percentage-wise, above and beyond the norm – to participate in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel). This was the case in the First Aliya in 1881, and also today in the settlements of Judea and Samaria, where it seems that the percentage of Yemenite immigrants is higher than their proportion in the population of the country.

In honor of this event, I will illustrate this in a number of halakha’s and customs.

Torah Reading

When our Sages enacted that seven people be called up to the Torah on Shabbat, and three on a weekday (Megillah 21a), they intended that each person called to the Torah would read the Torah himself. However, since the days of the Rishonim, in order to prevent embarrassment and unpleasantness of those who do not know how to read well, the custom is to appoint a “baal koreh” who would read the Torah for everyone, and the called-up person would only recite a bracha on his aliyah.

However, the Yemenite immigrants, to this day, still practice the ancient custom in which every person reads the portion when he is called-up to the Torah. The observance of this custom is one of the reasons for the proficiency of many Yemenite immigrants in Torah and grammar (Peninei Halakha 22: 5).


Flying insects are forbidden to eat, including all species that have three pairs of legs and wings, including wasps, bees, flies, crickets, mantis and grasshoppers. Only four species of grasshoppers are permitted by the Torah, and they have two signs from the Torah, and two signs from the words of our Sages (Leviticus 11:20-21; Chulin, 59a). However, in all the communities the tradition was lost with regards to grasshoppers, and only in Yemen and Morocco, where grasshoppers were prevalent, was the tradition maintained regarding the kosher grasshopper, which is the locust that multiplies in huge flocks.

In practice, although other members of the other communities were not accustomed to eat locusts, it is kosher for all of Israel, for those with a tradition are trusted in this matter (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 17: 8).

Birkot HaShachar (Morning Blessings)

The custom accepted by some Rishonim and the Ari, is that each person recites all Birkot HaShachar at once, so as not to forget one of them. And even if one does not receive personal benefit from a certain blessing, he still recites it, and therefore even a blind person recites the blessing ‘po’kay’ach iv’rim‘ (‘Who opens the eyes of the blind’), since the intention of the blessings is to thank God for the general good He granted to mankind.

However, the original enactment of our Sages’ was for Birkot HaShachar to accompany the process of arising in the morning, and for everything to be blessed adjacent to its benefit, and by doing so, the process of getting up in the morning receives a deeper meaning, with the blessings of thanks to God accompanying each stage of arising. Consequently, over something that one does not receive benefit – no blessing is recited. This is how Rambam ruled in practice, and only among the Yemenite immigrants do some still follow this custom till this day (Peninei Halakha: Prayer 9: 2-3).

Turning to the West in “Bo’ee B’Shalom

The Sephardi minhag is to turn to the West when saying “Mizmor le-David” and all of “Lecha Dodi“, and the custom of all Ashkenazic Jews and some Sephardi Jews is to turn to the West only at the end of “Lecha Dodi” in the section that starts with “bo’ee b’shalom“. But the Yemenite custom, and some Sephardim, is not to turn to the West at all, nor to the entrance of the synagogue, because this custom has no source in the Talmud.

The Bracha ‘Lay’shev Ba’Sukkah’

Although according to the strict adherence of halakha, as stated by many Rishonim, anyone who enters the sukkah on Sukkot should recite “lay’shev ba’sukka,” nevertheless, the members of all communities acted according to the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, that the blessing “lay’shev ba’sukkah” is recited only for eating. However, Yemenite immigrants go according to the Rif, Rambam, and the majority of Rishonim, to recite the blessing “lay’shev ba’sukkah” whenever they enter the sukkah in order to spend time there. And since the blessing is over yeshiva (sitting), they have the custom to bless standing up, before sitting down (Peninei Halakha: Sukkot 3: 5).

Waving the Lulav

Our Sages said in the Talmud (Sukkah 37b) that the way of waving the lulav is “to and fro, and up and down.” In the opinion of many poskim, the intention is to wave to the four winds, and up and down (Rosh, Shulchan Arukh 651: 9). Others say that the intention is literal, “to and fro’ towards oneself, and up and down, without having to turn to the four winds (Rambam 7:10), and this is the custom of the Yemenite Baladi Jews (Peninei Halakha: Sukkot 5: 2).

Shofar Blasts

The accepted practice of the teruah shofar blast is like the sound of crying, i.e., short, broken sounds. The Yemenite custom is like wailing, such that the sound is not truncated but trembles and rattles, and all the tremors are considered one sound. Upon examining we find that the teruah in Ashkenaz and Sephard is similar to an outburst of crying, which is truncated uncontrollably, whereas the teruah in Yemen is like a wailing which is done as an expression of crying and mourning in a controlled manner, as is customary among Yemenite immigrants, to have greater control over emotions (Peninei Halakha: Yamim Nora’im 4: 11).

The Yemenite immigrants also are accustomed to raise the tekiah and the teruah at the end, and one who pays attention understands the intention is to express in the tekiah the height of joy, and in the teruah, the height of sorrow.

The Custom of Tashlich

The foundation of the custom of saying Tashlich is based in the period of the Rishonim of Ashkenaz, and throughout the generations, after the Ari praised it, it also became prevalent among Sephardim. However, there is no obligation to observe the custom of Tashlich; in fact, some of the greatest Torah scholars did not observe it (the Vilna Ga’on), and this is the custom of most of the Yemenite Jews (Peninei Halakha, ibid, 3:15).

The Bracha over the Four Cups of Wine and Roasting on Pesach

In the opinion of the Geonim and Rishonim (Rif and Rambam), one must bless “ha’gefen” before drinking each of the four cups on Seder night, since each of them is a mitzvah in its own right. This is the custom of the Yemenite and Ashkenazi Jews. However, in the opinion of the Rosh, one should recite a blessing only on the first and third cups, and this is the custom of Sephardim (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 16:21).

Our Sages said in the Mishnah (Pesahim 53:1), that in places where it is customary to eat roasted meat on Seder night, they are permitted to continue with their custom, and in places that eating roasted meat was not customary – so as not to be seen as if they were eating the meat of the Pesach sacrifice outside of its proper place – it is prohibited to eat roasted meat. In practice, members of all the communities do not eat roasted meat, but Yemenite immigrants are customary to eat roasted meat on Pesach night (Peninei Halakha 16:32).

The Nine Days and Sefirat Ha’Omer

The Rishonim were stringent not to eat meat and not to drink wine during the Nine Days, since our Sages said that we minimize joy during these days. However, the Yemenite immigrants hold by the law of the Mishna (Ta’anit 26b) that only at the seudah mafseket before the fast of Tisha B’Av do we abstain from eating meat and drinking wine (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 8: 13).

The custom of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews from the days of the Rishonim is not to take a haircut during Sefirat Ha’Omer, however, the minhag of ancient Yemen was not to prevent taking a haircut at all during Sefirat Ha’Omer, but later, they began to be stringent in this matter. However, Rabbi Masharki, the author of “Shtilei Zaytim” and the Maharitz (Pe’ulat Tzadik 2:76), instructed to get a haircut on Erev Shabbat (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 3: 9).

Nikkur Cheilev and Gid Ha’Nasheh

The accepted custom in Israel today goes according to nikkur Yerushalmi, i.e., to be very stringent and to perform nikkur on everything that is close and similar to cheilev, and the branches of gid ha’nasheh and its fats, to the point where approximately 13-25 percent of the weight of the hind flesh is lost. Only the immigrants from two communities, Yemen and Morocco, meticulously guarded the tradition of nikkur, according to which only about 5 percent of the weight of the hind flesh is lost.

Since this is a reliable tradition of God-fearing Torah scholars, other members of communities who wish to rely on their tradition are also permitted. However, in hechsher’s intended for the general public, it is customary to take into account the stringencies of all communities, as does the Yerushalmi nikkur.

The Outer Layer of Sirchot

According to Sephardi minhag, when a sircha (adhesion) is found on the lungs of an animal – the animal is treif, and therefore it is obligatory to eat “halak”, namely, animals found not to have sirchot on their lungs. However, the Yemenite tradition was to be lenient and check the sirchot by means of peeling with a knife, and examination by emerging it in water to see if there is an aperture, in accordance with the specification for kosher meat. And the proof of their method is what is known in reality, that these sirchot do not kill animals within twelve months. This was more or less the minhag of Ashkenaz and Morocco, as well.

Heating Up Soup on Shabbat

In the opinion of Rambam and other Rishonim, the rule that “ein bishul achar bishul” (a food item which is cooked has no prohibition of cooking it again) applies also to liquid dishes such as soup, which, if cooked completely, even though it cooled, it may be warmed up on Shabbat to the temperature of ‘yad soledet bo‘ (the temperature at which the hand recoils). This is the minhag of Yemenite immigrants.

On the other hand, numerous Rishonim are of the opinion that since heat is the main element of cooking liquids, and thus “yesh bishul achar bishul” (there is a prohibition to cook even a previously cooked food item), therefore it is a Torah prohibition on Shabbat to heat up soup that has cooled. This is the custom of Jews who immigrated from Sephard and Ashkenaz. However, when one is guest of a Yemenite, he is allowed to eat the soup his host heated-up, since it was done consistent with halakha according to his minhag (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 10:6).

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

The Transformation of the Law of the Hind Flesh

With manyhechshers it is impossible to obtain the hind part of the meat because it isvery difficult to kasher it from the prohibitions of cheilev and gid ha’nasheh* According to the original halakha, making it kosher was not complicated, butremoving the forbidden part from the animal required tradition * Due to thedifficulties of exile and destruction of many communities, the traditionsurrounding the removal of the portion increasingly weakened, and many doubtsarose * For this reason many chumrot have arisen concerning nikkur, and acustom has developed to sell the hind flesh to a non-Jew * However, certaincommunities that have a tradition in this matter do not need to follow thechumrot of other communities

The Meat of the Hind Part of an Animal

Q: Why with many hechshers is it impossible to buy meat from the hind of animals? Is it forbidden?

A: According to halakha, the meat of the hind part is kosher, but nikkur (rendering the hindquarters of an animal fit for kosher consumption) of cheilev (prohibited fats known as tallow or suet) and the gid ha’nasheh (the sciatic nerve) is a complicated task, which also greatly damages the quality of the meat, therefore in many communities it was customary to sell it to non-Jews and not to try to kasher it. In this column I will detail the halachot and customs that brought this about.

What is the Gid Ha’Nasheh

As we learn in this week’s parsha, the Torah commands not to eat the gid ha’nasheh that is on the kaf ha’yerech (hip joint) (Genesis 32:33). This refers to the sinew on the right thigh and the left thigh. The gid ha’nasheh is the large sinew through which most of the nerves of the leg pass. It begins with the spinal cord and ends at the end of the leg, and the Torah forbids eating the part on the kaf ha’yerech, that is, the enlarged flesh surrounding the thigh bone, shaped like the palm of a cauldron- a rounded shape that rises in the middle. This kaf exists in all kinds of beasts and animals, whereas in birds, although there is flesh on the thigh, it is not round as a spoon but flat. Hence the gid ha’nasheh is forbidden in beasts and animals, and not in birds.

The Forbidden Part from the Torah, Rabbinic, and Minhag

In a large bull, the length of the forbidden part from the Torah is no more than eight centimeters long, and in a large sheep about four centimeters (Rama, Yoreh Deah, 1: 16:3). This part of the gid is easy to remove, because after the dismantling of the flesh from the kaf ha’yerech, it protrudes from the flesh.

Our Sages added and prohibited the beginning of this gid from the spine and its continuation to the end of the shin. They also forbade the tendrils of the gid ha’nasheh, i.e. the branches that spread into the flesh on the thigh. There is another gid called chitzon, and even that is forbidden by our Sages. It is rooted in the spinal cord as two vertebrae before the beginning of the gid, and from there it is drawn to the outer side of the flesh of the thigh and penetrates into it (Shulchan Aruch 65: 8).

In addition, God-fearing Jews are accustomed to also prohibit the fat around the gid and tendrils.

The removal of all the forbidden parts is from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinic edict), and because of Jewish custom, it is a complex task that requires learning, how to cut the meat so that in relatively few cuts it is possible to remove the gid with its branches and fat.

The Prohibition of Cheilev

The cheilevim are part of the fats in the flesh of the animal, and when an animal is brought as a sacrifice to Hashem, it is a mitzvah to completely sacrifice the cheilev, and sprinkle its blood on the altar. As a continuation of this, the Torah forbade eating cheilev and blood, since the cheilev is worthy of being sacrificed to Hashem, it is forbidden for a Jew to eat it (Leviticus 3:14-17). The prohibition of cheilev applies to three types of animals: ox, lamb and goat, which are worthy of sacrifice (Leviticus 7:23).

The cheilevim are similar in shape and texture to animal fats, but the cheilevim are solid and relatively large; they are located in three places in the animal, it is relatively easy to remove them as one piece (Shulchan Aruch 64: 4), and when a sacrifice is offered, we are commanded to sacrifice it on the altar. In contrast, fats are absorbed more in the meat, and it is difficult to remove them as a whole, and when a korban shleimim is sacrificed, they are eaten together with the meat of the korban.

The meaning of the word cheilev is choice, fine, and fat. The cheilev of an animal is the fat and best part of the animal, since fat is the softest and richest part in calories, and the cheilevim are the fine pieces of fat, therefore we were commanded to sacrifice them on the altar. There are three kinds of cheilevim: 1) the cheilev on the kerev, i.e., on the digestive stomachs which are called the kravi’im; 2) the cheilev on the kliyot (kidneys); 3) the cheilev on the kesalim, on the sides of the waist, next to the cheilev on the kliyot.

Because of the severity of the prohibition on cheilev, our Sages also forbade fats that are stuck and drawn from these cheilevim, even though they are absorbed into the meat, because they derive from the cheilev. They also prohibited small veins and membranes drawn from the cheilevim that are forbidden from the Torah, because they derive from them. And as our Sages have said, that there are five places that have small veins and membranes that must be removed, three of them from cheilev – in the spleen, loins, and in the kidneys (Chulin 93a). In addition, in other communities, they were stringent to forbid other fats because of their closeness or resemblance to the forbidden cheilevim.

Doubts and Chumrot as a Result of Exile

Since the laws of nikkur are taught in tradition, the constancy of their transmission from one generation to the next was greatly affected by the displacement of the exiles. The longer the exile, the more numerous the communities that were destroyed, and the more the tradition was negatively affected – the more doubts arose in the halakha’s of nikkur. In order to avoid the safek, God-fearing Jews had to be increasingly stringent. Thus we find that already in the beginning period of the Rishonim, because of the doubts, they tended to be more stringent than the halakha, as we find in the words of Rabbi Ya’akov ben HaRosh (who lived some 700 years ago), who copied in his book Arba Turim (Yoreh Deah 65) the order of the laws of nikkur that Rabbi Yitzchak of Marseilles, the author of Itur, wrote (about 850 years ago), because he was the only one who wrote the order of these laws in detail. At the end of his words he remarked: “This chacham was machmir (stringent), and one who is machmir will be blessed.” Rabbi Yosef Karo explained in his commentary on Beit Yosef: “Because of a number of places that need nikkur and removal, and have no foundation or root, as I have explained, each one in its place.”

Still, all Jews would slaughter and knew how to remove the cheilevim, the gid ha’nasheh, and the vessels of blood, but as the exile continued, more communities were destroyed, and until new communities were established and restored, other doubts arose in the tradition of nikkur, and Jews were required to become more stringent; it was already necessary to have great expertise in the work of nikkur. And as Rabbi Shlomo Luria wrote about four hundred and fifty years ago, that although in the early days of the Rishonim they relied on women and any proper man for the work of nikkur, but now they do not rely, because “in the days of the kadmonim (earlier Sages) they were not so stringent in nikkur as today, because from the law of the Talmud, nikkur is not so difficult; later, however, they added on to it (chumrot) … and in the land of Ashkenaz, they became ever more stringent.” He went on to explain that although most of the stringencies are from the words of the Sages, upon which one can also rely on someone who is not a scholar, but since these laws are complex, and the public does not know what is forbidden from the words of the Sages and from the Torah, it is only possible to rely on a minakker who is “known to be a God-fearing person, and an expert in the work of nikkur.”

In addition to the halachic explanation of the cause of the stringency, the Shelah wrote a general and deep explanation for the addition of the chumrot, according to which from generation to generation our coping with the Evil Inclination becomes greater and deeper, and therefore Jews added chumrot and fences (Beit Hochma Talita).

The Custom of Selling the Hind Part

Following the growing doubts and chumrot, the large communities used to sell the hind of the livestock to non-Jews, where almost all the forbidden cheilevim, the gid ha’nasheh, and all the other forbidden parts are found, and whose nikkur takes several hours (for example, one hind leg, especially the gid ha’nasheh and all of its branches, lasts an hour or two according to the chumrot of nikkur Yerushalmi).

The first to mention this custom (about 500 years ago) was the Radbaz, who wrote that this was the custom in Egypt. And the Shelah wrote that this is the correct way to act (in Ashkenaz some 400 years ago). This was the minhag of many of the communities in Europe, because they feared that due to the heavy burden, the men doing the nikkur would not be able to do their job properly.

The concession of the hind part is significant because about half of the animal’s meat is found in it, and it also contains what is considered premium meat. On the other hand, the more stringent the nikkur of the cheilevim and the gid ha’nasheh is, the quality of the meat surrounding them is negatively affected. This is because the meat needs to be cut into more pieces, and large areas are exposed to the air, and require to be soaked in water for the purpose of kashering and salting the meat, and in the eyes of butchers, water is considered poison for meat because it reduces its quality and appearance, to the point where they have to sell it as cheap minced meat. Besides this, rinsing the meat shortens its shelf life.

It is worth noting that today, it has become clear that health benefits from the chumrot of the removal of many fats are increasing, because during the period of abundance in which we live, meat fats are considered unhealthy foods, which increase the risk of vascular disease and cancer.

The Minhag and Halakha

In practice, according to the nikkur Yerushalmi, which is accepted and widespread in all the major communities in the world, nikkur is not done on the hind part. However, in practice, since the minhag forbidding the consumption of the hind parts was not accepted, anyone who wants to take the trouble to do nikkur according to halakha can do so (Igrot Moshe, unlike Zaken Aharon, who claimed that it is considered a vow that cannot be nullified). There are kashrut bodies that sell most of the hind meat to non-Jews, and perform nikkur on the better parts of the meat (fillet and sirloin), which are relatively easy and profitable to perform nikkur.

The Order of Nikkur Yerushalmi

It is worth explaining the order of nikkur Yerushalmi: In the wake of the meeting of Ashkenazi immigrants with Sephardic traditions from the West and Oriental Jewry, the Ashkenazi rabbis in Jerusalem established about 150 years ago, the “Order of Yerushalmi Nikkur“, according to all the chumrot of the Sephardim, the Eastern, and Ashkenazi countries together, where naturally, the majority of the chumrot came from Ashkenazi communities that underwent more destruction and wanderings. Since the customs of all the communities were included in it, from Jerusalem an order was issued that over time the tradition of the Yerushalmi nikkur was accepted throughout all of Israel and the Diaspora. In this nikkur, approximately 13-25 percent of the weight of the meat is lost.

Other Traditions

There are communities that have maintained traditions, such as the immigrants from Yemen and Morocco, who have skilled minakkrim according to their tradition, without taking into consideration the chumrot of the other communities. In these methods approximately 5-10 percent of the weight of the hind meat is lost, and those who wish to rely on their tradition are entitled, but in all hechshers intended for the public at large, the custom is to take into consideration all the traditions, like the Yerushalmi nikkur.

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