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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Birchas HaTorah

There is an obligation to make a blessing before learning Torah – Birchas HaTorah. What is the nature of this beracha?

The Gemara (Berachos 21a) derives from the verse כי שם ה’ אקרא הבו גודל לאלקנו that there is an obligation to make a beracha on the Torah. Rashi explains: When Moshe approached the Jewish people to say Shira (Haazinu) he said ‘I am going to make a blessing, and you, by answering Amen will bring greatness to Hashem’.

It would seem that this Mitzvah is Biblical in nature. However the Rambam omits it from his count of mitzvos. Indeed the Ramban, who adds to the count, adds the mitzvah to say Birchas haTorah. The Megillas Esther explains the Rambam’s omission; the Rambam was of the opinion that it was only a supporting text (asmachta) not a Biblical commandment.

The Kiryas Sefer understands that the Rambam did believe it to be a biblically mandated blessing; however the blessing is included in the general obligation to study Torah and is not a mitzvah unto itself.

Rav Shach explains the position of the Rambam differently. Indeed there is no biblical obligation to make a blessing. From the verse we see that Moshe made a blessing, and indeed we learn from there that one may make a blessing, and it will not be considered using God’s name in vain. However there is no obligation to make a blessing!

What sort of beracha is Birchas HaTorah? We know there are several categories of blessings.

1)Birchas hamitzvos, blessings made prior to the performance of a mitzvah
2)Birchas hanehnin, blessings made prior to partaking in something enjoyable.
3)birchas hoda’ah – blessings of thanks, and closely related -
4)Birchas hashvach – blessings of praise

At first glance it would seem that Birchas HaTorah are Birchas Hamitzvah, a blessing made before the performance of a mitzvah.

The Brisker Rav, spurred by several questions regarding the allowance of woman to make Birchas HaTorah, quotes his father Rav Chaim Soloveitchik “the blessing is not a blessing on the mitzvah of learning Torah, rather the Torah itself necessitates a blessing”. This sounds like a birchas Hanehnin, a blessing made on something enjoyable such as food. Indeed it is said in the name if Rav Chaim that the blessing on Torah is a birchas hanehnin.

This has a practical dimension. Rav Chaim ruled that if a baal koreh has stopped reading conclusively, and then decided to go a bit further, the oleh is required to make a new blessing, akin to one who decides to stop eating and then changes his mind!

Some more questions. Why are there two blessings, one before and one after, when called for an aliyah, and when it comes to birchas HaTorah we say only the ‘before’ blessing? Furthermore, why do we make two blessings in the morning?

The Levush suggests, along the lines of Rav Chaim, that when one is called to the Torah there is a before and an after, much like when eating there is a before and an after. There is therefore a blessing before and after. However when referring to our own personal obligation to learn and toil in Torah there is a before, when we wake up, but there is no stopping point! It is a pursuit that must accompany us until the moment we fall asleep. Therefore when we wake up we begin with the concluding blessing of the day before, and then make the preliminary blessing for the new day.

There is a thought from Rav Soloveitchik that can help us understand this. Rav Soloveitchik explains why after one has interrupted their learning, gone to work, or otherwise occupied himself, they do not have to make a new beracha. After all it should be considered a hefesk? Indeed Rabbeinu Tam asks this question, and explains that Torah is a full time pursuit, and one must immerse themselves in Torah day and night.

But what if you are, as we all are, mafsik? Explains Rav Soloveitchik, the obligation of Torah study is one that is always with us. We never leave it, and we are never mafsik. Rather as we go about our worldly tasks it moves to a quiet corner of our minds, but it’s always there.

He compares this to a mother who drops their child off at school and then goes about her day. Does she, for a moment, forget her child? So too with Torah study, it must be a part of us, constantly on our minds.

Rav Yosef Halavan, a commentary on the Levush questions the Levush. How can we make a concluding blessing after interrupting our learning with a significant amount of sleep? In the food parallel that would be a hefsek and the food would already be digested and it would be too late!

Retorts the Levush – firstly he would be considered an ones, unable to make the berachah because he was overtaken by sleep. Secondly, when it comes to food once it’s digested there is no trace or remembrance of the food and we can no longer offer thanks for it. However when talking about Torah it is never digested, as long as one remembers what they learnt it is considered ‘in their stomach’!

The language of the blessing is beautiful in this context. We thank Hashem for giving us the opportunity to toil in Torah. And then ask Him to be ‘mearev’ the Torah within us. We are asking Hashem to help us integrate the Torah we have already learnt into our lives, make it sweet for us and be able to hold onto the Torah of the day before. We then continue with the second beracha and thank Hashem for choosing us from all the nations and giving us the Torah.

Rav Yosef Halavan, because of his questions, offers a different approach. Both are preliminary blessings, one a birchas hamitzvah and one a birchas hanehnin, similar to matzo on Pesach. The Levush responds to this – by matzo the enjoyment and the mitzvah are two distinct things, the enjoyment would be all year, and the mitzvah is specific to Pesach night. However when it comes to Torah the mitzvah is to learn and understand and know what one is learning and that itself is the enjoyment!

Posted on 09/29 at 07:12 PM • Permalink
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Friday, September 17, 2010

The Five Lights of Yom Kippur and Besamim in Havdalah

Previously titled “The Well Rested Candle” and “My Old Flame”

There are five sets of candles that one may have to light for Yom Kippur.

1) The regular Yom Tov candles. These are the candles one lights before the onset of any Shabbos or Chag. The custom is to recite the blessing “…Lhadlik Ner Shel Yom Hakippurim” as well as Shecheyanu

2) Many have a custom to light a “yahrtzeit” or memorial candle for relatives who have passed away. These are of the 24 hour variety and are lit, at home before Yom Kippur.

3) There is a custom quoted by the Rema and other Poskim to light a “ner bari”, a candle for the living. This is lit by each married male and is intended to last the entire Yom Kippur. Since it can be interpreted as ominous if your candle goes out, many bring it to Shul and place it among all the other candles so that it will not be apparent which is yours.

4) The Shulchan Aruch writes that we should light many candles in the synagogue on Yom Kippur out of respect for the day.

5) When making Havdala after Yom Kippur one is obligated to use a “ner sheshavas”, light that rested, which requires that one use as their Havdala candle on Motzai Yom Kippur a flame that has been burning from before Yom Kippur.


The Kol Bo explains that the candle on Motzai Shabbos and the candle on Motzai Yom Kippur are fundamentally different. The Gemara relates that on the very first Saturday Night of creation Hashem showed Adam how to make a fire from two stones. So on Saturday night in commemoration we thank Hashem for the creation of fire by lighting the Havdala candle. It therefore may, and indeed should be, a new flame.

On Yom Kippur we are celebrating the fact that we hadn’t used fire all day. In this way Yom Kippur is different from all other Jewish holidays, on which the use of fire is permitted. So it is therefore appropriate to use a flame that had ‘rested’ all day. It had been burning before Yom Kippur, had not been used over the holiday, and had now become permitted once again.

What if Yom Kippur is on Shabbos? The Poskim write that we may use a new flame because of the Shabbos aspect, however the recommended practice is to use an existing flame then as well in order to fulfill both reasons.

But why can’t I just use candle 2, 3, or 4?

A candle that was lit in honor of Yom Kippur or some other reason, and not for the benefit of light, is a subject of dispute in Halacha. Ordinarily the candle used for Havdalah must be lit in order to have benefit from it and not for some other purpose. A candle that is lit for respect, memory or as a ‘ner bari’ are lit for reasons other than giving light. It is therefore recommended practice is to use a candle that was lit before Yom Kippur specifically for light after Yom Kippur, and not in honor of Yom Kippur. [If you add some olive oil to the regular 24 hour candles it’ll burn for considerably longer and ensure that you’ll have an available flame].

If one only has a flame that was lit for a reason other than light benefit they should light a candle from that, and then make the beracha on both together. This works because the original candle has rested, and the new candle was lit for light. Rav Moshe Feinstein and others indicate that the two candles don’t need to be held together, you can just use the second candle. For this purpose a pilot light is sufficient as well.

In the event that one cannot find a flame that had been burning from before Yom Kippur the Shulchan Aruch brings an opinion that you can light a new fire and then light a fire from that fire. However the Mishna Berura disagrees and writes that one should not make a beracha on such a flame.

If even that is not available then one should definitely not use a flame for Havdala and if one does then it constitutes an interruption between the Hagafen blessing on wine and the drinking of the wine and another Hagafen must be recited.

Teshuvos VHanhagos (Rav Moshe Sternbuch) writes that according to the poskim that one can use an incandescent bulb for Havdala one could use a light that was on from before Yom Kippur as a Ner Sheshavas as well. 

As discussed, when Yom Kippur is on Shabbos, although it is still preferred to use an existing flame one may make a blessing on a new flame as well.

Do you use besamim (spices) for Havdala on Yom Kippur that falls on Shabbos? The Shulchan Aruch says no, since the besamim are used to supplant the loss of the departing extra neshama for Shabbos, and that neshama is dependent on food, when we fast on Shabbos then there is no neshama yeseira.

However the Mishna Berura writes that the widely accepted custom amongst Ashkenazim is to use Besamim on Motzai Yom Kippur, and indeed that is the minhag in Ashkenazi communities today, in Sephardic communities they do not.

Gmar Chatima Tova

cross posted to the LINK blog

Posted on 09/17 at 02:49 AM • Permalink
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Monday, August 02, 2010

Yoshon and Chodosh

A halachic examination of the laws of Yoshon and their contemporary applications (in PDF format)

Posted on 08/02 at 06:19 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blessings and curses - the Jew’s closeness to Hashem - Thoughts on Kinah 9

Notes on Kinah 9 apropos to Parshas Bechukosai as well

This Kinah takes a look at parshas Bechukosai, where Hashem tells us the wonderful idyllic rewards for keeping His mitzvos and walking in His ways, and chas veshalom the punishments that will befall the Jewish people if we ‘are disgusted with His commandments and stray.
There may be a tendency to not take these seriously. If I don’t wear shatnez there will be peace in the Middle East? Really? And if I ignore some of the commandments, if I don’t cherish my relationship with Hashem then we will (temporarily) lose our rights to being the chosen people, Hashem will turn a blind eye to us?
Here the mekonen, step by step, takes us through the blessings, and shows how they were reversed, and how all the tochachah and curses of Bechukosai came to be. The words of the Chumash came alive, in a very horrible and tragic way.
The kinah is ‘spoken’ alternatively by God, the Jews, and the enemies of the Jews. Hashem speaks and reminds us of the covenant we have with Him, and how we have brought the tzuros unto ourselves. Israel laments, and the enemies says that yes – true Hashem used to be your protector, but now he has turned against you and abandoned you because of your sins.
We have to realize that Jews enjoy a very close and special relationship with Hashem, and along with the perks of being G-ds chosen people, we are held to a higher standard as well. We bear responsibility for our actions, and suffer the consequences of our missteps.
Last night, in the very first kinah of Tisha B’Av, as well as in Kinah 10, the kinah gives us a clear tit for tat for our actions. Each tragedy happened for a specific cause. Although its not for us to be specific, the general principle of responsibility is one that must be held dear.
There is a tremendous upside to this as well. Shmuel Hanavi, after crowning Shaul as king, said to the Jewish People: “I don’t understand you! Until now you had a very wonderful close relationship to Hashem. When you were close to Him and prayed to Him He took care of you. When you strayed and forgot about Him you were attacked by your enemies and you remembered Him. Why would you want to put a king between you and Hashem?” It’s a beautiful special thing to have closeness with Hashem and something we should cherish, but comes along with a responsibility as well. 
I think there is also a deeper point here. Rashi explains that the parsha of Bechukosai is referring to the obligation to toil in Torah. When we are involved in Torah study everything goes right for us, we are close to Hashem and He takes care of us. If we say that c”v its archaic, who needs it and mai ahani li rabanan that brings the kelalos upon us. Indeed the Gemara in Yoma tells us that that the chachamim were in a quandary as to the reason for the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash until it was revealed to them that it was for not making Birkas HaTorah. Rav Michel Birnbaum explains that this is more than a bracha, its our showing appreciation to Torah, recognizing the very dominant role Torah study must play in our life, and feeling and expressing our appreciation to HKBH for giving us this wonderful gift (as is evidenced by the din that Birkas Hatorah can be replaced by ahavah rabbah).
We lost the blessings and received the tochachah due to our lack of respect for Torah. The medrash in Eicha says Halevai they would have forsaken me and protected the Torah, the light within it would have returned them to good. We need, and must recognize within our own lives the need, for the light of Torah to be our guide and our inspiration, and then as the Kinah concludes in the prayer Hashem will dispose of Edom and rejuvenate our relationship and the blessings that come along with it.

Posted on 07/20 at 11:26 PM • Permalink
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The Primacy of Torah to the continuity of the Jewish People - Thoughts on Kinah 41

This Kinah was written by the Maharam Miruttenberg, one of the last of the Baalei Tosfos. It describes a tragic event in Jewish history, made even more tragic due to the fact that the entire event was instigated by one of our own, an apostate Jew. In 1240 in Paris an apostate Jew named Nicholas Donin recommended to King Louis IX that if he wanted to get rid of the Jews for once and for all, the only way to do that was by destroying their Torah. The King and the Church had all copies of the Talmud confiscated on March 3 1240 and placed in the Place De Greve, a public square in Paris, which is the current location of city hall and the mayor’s office. In all there were 24 cartloads of Talmud, thousands of volumes.
The King invited 4 rabbis to a debate with Donin, the fate of the 24 cartloads hanging in the balance. Transcripts of the debate exist, and even according to the Latin transcript was it by no means a win by Donin. The Queen herself at one point told the accusers that they were trying too hard.  Even so the fates of the volumes of Torah were a foregone conclusion, and in 1242 the Gemara’s were burnt.
The ramifications of this were tremendous. Each one of those volumes were handwritten, this was 200 years before the printing press was invented.  There wasn’t a Gemara to be found in all of France, and many of the volumes had the actual handwritten glosses of the Baalei Tofos written in their margins, to be lost forever.
There is a parallel that cannot be ignored here. Nine years earlier (to the day?) in the very same square, volumes of the Rambam’s guide for the perplexed had been burned. Although it seems that they had also been burned by the church, the impetus came from some of the greatest Rabbis of the day, who felt that the works of the Rambam should not be studied. It cannot be merely a coincidence that the Talmud was burnt in the very same spot 9 years later.
The Maharam Mirutenberg was a 27 year old student at the time.  It is evident in this Kinah that he saw this potentially as the end of Torah as we knew it. He compares the glory of the giving of the Torah to its current state. As Rav Soleveitchik explains it, he compares us to a wife whose husband ran away and deserted us, and didn’t even leave over any money – the holy Sefarim – to sustain ourselves.
He laments “no longer will I hear the voice of your singers” the voice of Torah has been stilled, and there will no longer be any Torah scholars.
The Torah is the glue that keeps us going throughout golus, that binds us together and to our Father in Heaven.
But netzach yisrael lo yishaker - the tenacity and resilience of the Jewish people cannot be over estimated. As the maharam himself predicts at the end of the kinah, Torah will prevail.
Rabeinu Yechiel of Paris the father of the Rosh and one of the debaters, gathered 300 students and taught them Shas from memory, which they recorded.[remarkably, when compared to the Munich manuscript, one of the only Shasim we have from before the burning, they are almost exactly the same]. He taught them the teachings of the Baalei Tosfos. Rav Moshe of Coucy, another one of the debaters wrote the Sefer Mitzvos Hagadol, which codified and explained all the mitzvos and is still a primary text today. 
We saw this more recently during the holocaust. In the Kovno Ghetto there was a Rav named Rav Ephraim Oshry. He recorded and hid many of the questions that were asked to him, questions like whether the kohanim had to remove the rags from their feet before duchening, how to put on tefilin when working 18 hour days, whether boards stolen from the Nazis can be used for a sukkah, and were ghetto homes obligated in a mezuzah. These questions eventually filled five volumes that were printed after the war. Five voumes!! From one ghetto, to one Rabbi. That is the tenacity of klal yisrael, the inborn resilience Hashem has given us to survive.
An American officer told my father the following story. In 1945, he was involved in liberating the horrendous concentration camps of Nazi Europe. He went into a camp to find himself surrounded by death. A man looked up to him with gratitude. “Zei Moichel,” [please forgive me for troubling you] he said “and find me a Gemara Moed Katan.” Next week I have yahrzeit for my father and I promised him that each year on his yahrzeit I would make a siyum on Moed Katan.”
The Maharam Mirutenberg, who right before he died wrote “the sun shines for everyone but G-d and me,” is telling us that Torah is our essence, and when 24 cartloads of Torah were burnt it potentially could spell the end of the Jewish people, total despair and abandonment. The Torah is our lifeforce!

Some of the ides here were borrowed or inspired from here and here

Posted on 07/20 at 11:16 PM • Permalink
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Friday, June 18, 2010

Davening on Shabbos That Coincides with Yom Tov or Rosh Chodesh

What happens if on Yom Tov one mixes up the end of the blessing in Shemoneh Esrei , and in place of saying Mekadeish Hashabbos Veyisrael Vehazmanim, he says Mekadeish Hashabbos, or vice versa?

There is a three way dispute (Beitzah 17) regarding the proper format of Shemoneh Esrei on Yom Tov that falls on Shabbos.

According to Beis Shamai a totally new beracha is added for Yom Tov
According to Beis Hillel Yom Tov is incorporated into the middle part of the regular Shabbos blessing
Rebbi agrees with Beis Hillel, and adds that Yom Tov is also included in the closing blessing – Mekadeish Hashabbos Veyisrael Vehazmanim.
The Halacha is like Rebbi.

Now, if one forgot to mention Shabbos in the ending beracha and concluded ‘Mekadeish Yisrael Vihazmanim’ we run into a dispute of the poskim:
The kenesses hagedola rules that one does not have to repeat Shemoneh Esrei

The Pri Chadash (OC 487) argues and since that if one changes the way that one is supposed to make a beracha (matbeah shetovu chachamim) they do not fulfill their obligation and still have to repeat Shemoneh Esrei. Therefore whether Shabbos was omitted or Yom Tov was omitted in the closing beracha, one has to repeat Shemoneh Esrei. 

The Biur Halacha (487) writes as follows: if one doesn’t mention Shabbos in the closing then they have to repeat Shemoneh Esrei, but if one omits Yom Tov they do not. His rationale is that even though the Halacha is like Rebbi that one must incorporate Yom Tov into the closing, Rebbi still agrees with Beis Hillel that the primary beracha (the matbeah) is Mekadeish Hashabbos.

Therefore even if one omits the mention of Yom Tov they haven’t changed the primary blessing and therefore it doesn’t necessitate repeating Shemoneh Esrei. However if they omit Shabbos they have changed the original matbeah of the beracha and must repeat Shemoneh Esrei.
Rav Akiva Eiger, quoted by the Aruch Hashulchan holds that even if one does mention Yom Tov in the blessing but omitted its mention in the middle of the paragraph, he must repeat the Amidah, and that is the ruling of the Aruch Hashulchan himself.

When Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos, in place of the regular ‘Tikanta Shabbos’ prayer in the Mussaf Amidah, we say ‘Ata Yitzarta’ which incorporates the prayers of Rosh Chodesh and the special Mussaf sacrifice into the regular Shemoneh Esrei. We then conclude with ‘Mekadeish Hashabbos Veyisrael Veroshei Chodashim.

What if one closed out with the usual Mekadeish Hashabbos? Here Rosh Chodesh differs from Yom Tov. Even according to the Pri Chadash who holds that on Yom Tov if one concludes with Mekadeish Hashabbos they must repeat the Mussaf, on Rosh Chodesh he does not. He extends this as far as Shabbos Chol Hamoed, if one said the usual Shabbos Mussaf he does not repeat the Amidah.

The Pri Chadash explains: On Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamoed there is no added blessing for the occasion, rather whenever we pray we are supposed to incorporate it into our regular Shemoneh Esrei. If forgotten we still fulfilled our prayer obligation. On Yom Tov we fundamentally change the Amidah to reflect the holiday, and if that change is not incorporated it is considered changing the blessing from the way it was coined and one cannot fulfill their obligation.

The Aruch Hashulchan (425:1) argues with the Pri Chadash, and writes that whereas the main thing is the blessing at the end, if he omits it then he must repeat the Shemoneh Esrei.

Posted on 06/18 at 02:14 AM • Permalink
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Friday, April 30, 2010

Zmanim Part 1

There are several ‘zmanim’ or halachic times that one must be familiar with to fully appreciate how the time restrictions on prayer work.

Amud/Alos Hashachar – Dawn, or first light. This is either 72 or 90 minutes before Neitz Hachamah

Hair Penei Hamizrach – when the whole eastern skyline is lit up.  According to many opinions when the Halacha refers to ‘Amud Hashachar’ it really means this time. (See Biur Halacha beginning of siman 89).

Misheyakir – The Gemara establishes this as the time which one can differentiate between techeles (blue) string and white string on their tzitzis. This is the same time that one can recognize an acquaintance from 4 amos (6-8 feet) away. Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that this is a subjective zman, it depends on the clarity of the day and so on.

The Mishah Berura writes (58:18) that misheyakir is after the ‘hair penei hamizrach’. 

Rav Elyashiv (Hearos on Brachos 9b) says this is 30 minutes before Hanetz Hachamah. 

Rav Moshe Feinstein in Igros Moshe (OC 4:6) says that this is 35-40 minutes before Hanetz Hachamah, based on his observations on clear days.

Rav Tikushinsky (luach Eretz Yisrael) as well as the Kaf Hachayim (18:18) say that the minhag in Jerusalem is to consider a full hour before hanetz hachamah to be considered misheyakir. Other opinions range from 42 -52 minutes before Neitz in Jerusalem.  Presumably these opinions do not hold that is a subjective zman, rather a fixed time like all the other zmanim.

Hanetz Hachamah – Sunrise. When the top of the orb of the sun is visible on the horizon. Some say the entire orb must be visible.
There is discussion amongst the Achronim if this is measured at real elevation or at sea level. [The practical difference is generally minimal].
This is all working with dawn being at a fixed time before sunrise. There is however a way of calculating by degrees.

To be continued…


Posted on 04/30 at 06:57 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pesach Sheini

Today is Pesach Sheini, the 14th of Iyar. Pesach Sheini is the make up date for those who missed Pesach the first time around due to their inability to bring the Korban Pesach on Pesach. In fact the Yerushalmi says that if Moshiach would arrive between Pesach and Pesach Sheini we would bring the Korban Pesach on Pesach Sheini. Especially significant is the fact that it is the only day on the Jewish calendar that was granted as a holiday because the people wanted it, a topic for a more spiritually inclined post.

When Pesach Sheini was in effect, the schedule was as follows: On the 14th of Iyar they would bring the Korban Pesach, and on that evening, which was the beginning of the 15th of Iyar, they would eat the Korban Pesach together with Matzoh and Maror.

In this day and age, when we don’t have the Beis Hamikdash, how do we celebrate Pesach Sheini?


Many have a custom to eat matzah on Pesach Sheini as a remembrance. When this Matzah should be eaten is subject to dispute. Logically it would seem that it should be eaten on the night following Pesach Sheini, the eve of the 15th, because that’s when the Matzah would’ve been eaten. This was in fact the custom of the Maharam Ash. This was also the opinion of Rav Tuvya Goldstein and is the opinion of Rav Dovid Feinstein.

The vastly common custom is however to eat the Matzoh on the 14th of Iyar. There are various reasons given for this, some Kabalistic some very technical. (See Kli Chemdah Parshas Veaschanan and Minhag Yisroel Torah).

Other Foods

The widely accepted custom among those who eat Matzoh on Pesach Sheini is to eat Matzoh only.  There were various other customs, among them to eat Maror, Charoses and boiled eggs. These minhagim don’t seem to have caught on.


Most congregations do not recite Tachanun on Pesach Sheini. It’s notably absent from the list of days on which Tachanun is omitted that is found in Shulchan Aruch and is not added by the Rema or the Mishna Berura. It is however mentioned by the Shaarei Teshuvah who discusses whether Tachnun should be omitted on the 15th of Iyar as well. It seems that the Minhag is to omit Tachanun on the 14th. In a minority of congregations outside of Israel it is omitted on the 14th and 15th.

Regarding Mincha on the 13th, there are various customs, most Yeshivos do say Tachanun, and most Shuls do not.

There is also a Chasidic custom to omit Tachanun for the seven days following Pesach Sheini, based on the Zohar.

Eis Ratzon

The Zohar writes that the gates of Heaven open on Pesach Sheini for everyone and remain open for seven days. This is an auspicious time for all of our prayers to be heard.

Much of the source material for this article was found in Minhag Yisroel Torah


Posted on 04/27 at 06:46 PM • Permalink
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Friday, March 26, 2010

The Ultimate Guide to Post Pesach shopping

Post Pesach Supermarket Shopping Scene

Posted on 03/26 at 10:17 AM • Permalink
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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Netilas Yadayim v

Washing Before Davening

There is a Halachic requirement to wash one’s hands before davening. This applies to all three prayers. There are two reasons for this cited in the Rishonim. One is that if your hands are dirty they must be washed before prayer. Additionally we suspect that one was distracted throughout the day and touched places that necessitate hand washing.

For Shacharis, if one was careful not to touch anything that would necessitate handwashing after his morning Netilas Yadayim then he need not wash again. The same applies to washing for Maariv if one davens Mincha and Maariv together.

If no water is available, and he definitely touched an area of the body that requires him to wash his hands, he must travel 18 (and sometimes up to 72) minutes to procure water, if by doing so he will still be able to Daven at the proper time.

In other situations he may wipe his hands on a cloth or something that cleanses if there is no water.

One should not wash in a bathroom, but if there is no choice he may do so, provided that he dry his hands outside the bathroom. (Igros Moshe EH 1:114)

When a Cup is Needed

The only times one must use a cup is in the morning and before eating bread. Rav Ben Zion Abba Shaul (Ohr litzion vol.2 1:5 in notes) infers from the Rambam that before prayer one should also use a vessel.

Although for all other items a cup is not needed, the Kaf Hachaim recommends using a cup for all the various required washings.


Posted on 02/04 at 06:05 AM • Permalink
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Friday, January 22, 2010

Netilas Yadayim - Ritualistic Hand Washing Part IV

for part 1 click here

for part 2 click here

for part 3 click here

There are other situations that necessitate Halachic hand washing. Several are due to Ruach Ra’ah, which rests on ones hands in certain situations much as after sleeping, although the washing need not be with the same Halachic urgency, however one should wash as soon as possible.


Entering a primitive bathroom and entering a bathhouse, even without using the facilities; Cutting nails and cutting hair; and touching parts of the body that are usually covered require washing until the wrist but only once on each hand (The Shelah writes that in all these cases one should wash three times).
Going to a cemetery, touching a dead body and having marital relations require three times according to Shaarei Tesuva because they have a higher level of Ruach Ra’ah. There is a minority opinion that includes going to the bathroom in this category.

Touching used leather shoes, touching sweaty areas or clothing, scratching your scalp, touching ear or nose waste (according to some), and changing a diaper all require hand washing due to cleanliness. This is different than Ruach Ra’ah in the respect that not the whole hand need be washed. According to some opinions marital relations and touching usually covered parts of the body are also included in this category.

A little more in depth:

Cutting nails – however they’re cut, and even if they are cut by someone else (a manicurist) although the person cutting does not have to wash their hands.  This applies to both finger and toe nails. Nails that are bitten as a way of cutting them also require washing.  For more on fingernails look here.

Cutting hair – Both the barber and the person getting a haircut (Barbie?) must wash their hands. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach has two interesting rulings here. If one takes a snip of a 3 year old boys hair at his upsherin (as is customary) he need not wash his hands, and after cutting the beard (or shaving) and payos one need not wash his hands.

Bathroom - According to most opinions modern bathrooms do not necessitate hand washing if one entered them and did not relieve themselves. [a port a potty would be different].
Parts of the body that are usually covered – in all places will include above the knees, the entire torso and back, and above the elbows. Elsewhere would depend on whether they are usually covered. It is questionable if this is because of Ruach Ra’ah or cleanliness and therefore one should wash their whole hand.

Funerals and cemeteries – if one was in the same building as, or came within 4 amos of, a decedent he must wash his hands. The minhag as recorded by the Rema is to wash ones hands before reentering a building. Rav Moshe Feinstein said that this only applies to a residence, not a public building.

Marital Relations – Since this is required for both Ruach Ra’ah and cleanliness purposes one should wash their whole hand. The Mishna Berura quotes an opinion that requires washing three times.


Posted on 01/22 at 01:06 AM • Permalink
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Friday, January 15, 2010

Netilas Yadayim - The Ritual of (or Ritualistic) Hand Washing III

for part 1 click here

for part 2 click here

Before washing hands one should not touch any food, because he will impart the Ruach Ra’ah to the food. If one touched food, whenever possible (i.e. it won’t ruin the food) the food should be washed three times.

The minimum amount of sleep one has to sleep in order to be obligated to wash is half an hour.

If someone else washes your hands, such as a nurse, they must wash their own hands first (unless they are not Jewish).

Where to wash:

The halacha (based on the Zohar) is that one should not walk four Amos (6-8 feet) without washing their hands in the morning. For this reason, many have the custom to wash their hands before their feet even hit the floor. They do this by placing a cup with a bowl on the floor next to their bed. If you do so there are several things to be careful about:

  • Don’t forget it’s there and step in the water
  • Make sure the water doesn’t get shoved under the bed. [This goes for all food, the Ruach Ra’ah from sleeping is imparted to what’s under the bed. This is a common camp scenario].
  • The water used for washing is considered impure and should not be spilled where it may be stepped on, used to feed an animal or to wash the floor or dishes. If one washed over dishes in the kitchen sink, those dishes should be rinsed off.
  • The bowl one washes into should not be used for food according to some.

There is also an opinion (somewhat rejected by the Mishna Berura) that the entire house, or at least the entire room, is considered four Amos. Therefore one may walk to a sink and wash, and this is indeed the custom in many non Chasidic communities.

Modern bathrooms that have the commode in the same room as the sink are a matter of dispute among the poskim. Some poskim say that one is allowed to wash their hands in them, but the blessing should be said outside. Others, including Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe EH 1:114) and the Chazon Ish rule that it has the same status as the Talmudic “Bais hakesai” and therefore one should not wash their hands in the bathroom unless there is absolutely no choice.

In the event that the most accessible sink is in the bathroom, whereas it is always best practice to wash as soon as possible one should wash there, and then you may touch your face and so on, and then wash again outside of the bathroom, before making a blessing.

If there is a closed door between the sink area and the lavatory area one may wash and make a blessing.

Although generally one must begin training their children in mitzvos from when they are about 5 years old (see MB 18:123) and capable of understanding, when it comes to netilas yadayim there are those that say that since it is an issue of the metaphysical existence of Ruach Ra’ah, one should wash the hands of the very small as well. (Pri Migadim, quoted by Mishna Berura). Conversely the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (4:2) writes that the Nefesh doesn’t come to a child until he has reached maturity and is obligated in the commandments, therefore there is no Ruach Ra’ah either until that age. [Puzzlingly, in his conclusion he seems to commend washing the hands of newborns]. However the regular chinuch concerns would still apply.

What to wash with

We previously discussed that one should wash each hand three times, alternating hands. This must be done with a human powered action, and should be done with a cup. It is preferable not to use a disposable cup for this, although if that’s all you’ve got its ok. [In this regard we are more lenient than with Kiddush, where a disposable cup should not be used] (Igros Moshe OC 3:39). The cup should be whole, and should contain at least a revi’is (2.9 – 3.3 oz) to begin with.
If one doesn’t have a cup then they may turn on and off the faucet six times. The first spurt of water that comes out of the faucet is considered to be human powered.

If this is not possible one should dip their hands into water six times or at least wipe them with a dry cloth or on a cleansing surface such as wood or earth. This will help for cleanliness for prayer, but not for Ruach Ra’ah.The blessing said in this situation is Al Nekiyus Yadayim.  In this case, when one reaches a place with a cup they should wash regularly without a blessing.

The water used for washing should be clear and not bitter.

Next time we will discuss when the blessing is said and other occasions that necessitate hand-washing.


Posted on 01/15 at 08:12 AM • Permalink
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Friday, January 08, 2010

Netilas Yadayim - Ritualistic Hand Washing Part II

For part 1 click here

The concept of Ruach Ra’ah, which we discussed in Part I, seems to be the primary reason for the great rush to wash ones hands in the morning. The Gemara uses strong language, saying that the hand that touches the eye, nose, ears, mouth or any other bodily orifice deserves to be cut off. The Gemara explains that by touching an opening it imparts Ruach Ra’ah into the opening. This also applies to touching food. The Gemara concludes that the only way to remove the spirit is to wash your hands three times.

The Bach, quoting the Zohar, says that one who walks four Amos without washing their hands is eligible for the death penalty!
There is a fascinating tradition from the Vilna Gaon: There was a famous convert known as the Ger Tzedek, Avraham ben Avraham. He was a young nobleman from a Polish –Catholic family who converted to Judaism, and was found out and burned at the stake. The Vilna Gaon had apparently developed a relationship with the young count, even offering to save him through supernatural means – his offer was refused. After his death the Vilna Gaon declared that the Ruach Ra’ah of the morning had been lessened, and one no longer had to be as careful with Ruach Ra’ah. This tradition was quoted by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and is said to be the reason why in Slabodka the custom was to be lenient with walking four Amos before washing hands.

Although this tradition is not relied upon for Halacha, it may be the reason why the Yeshiva world tends to be more lenient than the strictest letter of the law when it comes to the laws of Netilas Yadayim.

Now some Halachos:

As discussed, before washing your hands you should not touch any openings on the body. You should also not walk four Amos without washing, although there are opinions that one could count the entire room, or perhaps the entire house, as four Amos.

A nursing woman, who wakes up to nurse her child in the middle of the night, should be careful not to touch the baby’s mouth. When changing a diaper in the nighttime one should also be careful to not touch any orifices. There is a lenient opinion, cited by the Aishel Avraham (Butshatsh) that the Ruach Ra’ah only arrives when one wakes up for the day.

It is questionable as to whether the prohibition applies to eyelids; the Aishel Avraham writes that for any necessary purpose one may be lenient.

The Gemara writes that in order to remove the Ruach Ra’ah one must wash their hands three times. The Poskim explain that this should be done in an alternating manner as follows: lift the cup with your right hand, pass it to your left pour once onto your right and then switch hands and pour once onto your left. Repeat until both hands have been washed three times. (a leftie should do so as well).  There is another opinion that one should wash his right hand three times and then his left hand three times. Although the minhag is like the first method, some are machmir to employ both methods.

Once you have washed your hands three times, there is a question as to whether the water remaining on your hands is impure or not, the difference being whether you should make the Berachah before drying your hands (as is preferable when washing for bread) or after the drying. Some Poskim say that one should therefore immediately dry their hands.  The Vilna Gaon recommended washing a fourth time in order to wash off any remaning impure waters, and according to him one could say the blessing before drying their hands.

Although many are accustomed to say the Beracha later either way (Iy”H we will get to that later) there is another important difference, i.e. if you may wash your face before drying your hands. If the water on your hands still has the vestiges of Ruach Ra’ah, it would not be good to then touch your eyes, nose and mouth with it. If one follows the practice of the Gaon and washes a fourth time they will not have to dry their hands before washing their face.

To be continued…


Posted on 01/08 at 08:36 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Maaser Kesafim

Please enjoy this shiur (source material is available as well) that I gave at LINK’s Yeshiva for a day Program:


Posted on 01/05 at 03:39 AM • Permalink
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Netilas Yadayim - Ritualistic Hand Washing Part I

It is well known that one must wash their hands before eating bread, and make a blessing. This is by Rabbinic edict. There is then another Talmudic rule that one should make the blessing of ‘Al Ntilas Yadayim’ in the morning as well. Although no reason is given, the Rosh (Berachos 9:23) explains that when one sleeps their hands travel and they certainly touched ‘unclean’ places. (We will discuss the idea of touching impure places more at length later). They must therefore wash their hands before davening.

A more Kabbalistic reason is given by the Rashba (Shut 191): When one awakens they are like a new person. This reality necessitates our immediate thanks and appreciation to Hashem, which is comparable to the Avodah of the Kohen in the Beis Hamikdash. Just as he must wash his hands from the Kiyur we too must wash our hands from a cup.

The Mishnah Berurah quotes both of the above reasons, and writes that we necessitate washing for either of them, albeit not with a Bracha. Therefore if one was up all night (or slept with gloves) they would still have to wash their hands.

There is a third reason described by the Gemara in Shabbos (109b) is Ruach Ra’ah, a metaphysical negative ‘spirit’ that rests on a person overnight, and one is cautioned against touching any facial orifice before washing your hands. [This is also the reason why it’s necessary to wash three times, and with a cup, which we will discuss later]. This seems to be related, in Halachic literature, to an idea presented by the Arizal: The Gemara says that sleep is 1/60th of death. The Arizal explains that when one awakens all vestiges of “death” leave him, aside from his hands which still retain some influence (and no blessings should be recited in that state). One must therefore wash his hands before being able to say any blessings.
The first two reasons necessitate a blessing (according to their respective authors) the third reason does not necessitate a blessing, but does impel one to wash ones hands as soon as possible after awaking.

Next we will discuss other occasions that necessitate Halachic hand washing.


Posted on 12/25 at 06:59 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaberRabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber spent his childhood globetrotting with his family. His pioneering spirit first surfaced in Melbourne, Australia, where he was excited to be a member of the opening class of Mesivta Bnei Torah. From Australia the Haber family settled down in Monsey, NY. Ever the maverick, Tzvi promptly left home to study in Yeshiva Ohr Hameir in Peekskill, where he became a mainstay of the Yeshiva, and inspired his younger brothers as well as several friends from the Mesivta in Melbourne to follow him. He then joined his chaburah in Jerusalem, first at the Mir Yeshiva and then at the Bais Medrash of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, a senior scion of the famed Brisk dynasty. As his globetrotting family returned to Jerusalem, Tzvi returned to the US, to freeze in the famed, yet comparatively chilled Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

 In 2004 he met his wife, Suzanne Schor, a native of the warmer Los Angeles climate, and the couple settled in Lakewood, where he focused his pioneering and independent strengths on the study of Halacha, or Jewish law. His innovative spirit and innate ability to help others seeking to clarify the finer points of Judaism and integrate them into their daily lives inspired his decision to commute daily from Lakewood to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in order to bask in the day to day exposure to the world renowned Posek, HaRav David Feinstein. The daily commute was more than compensated for when he received Semicha from Rav Feinstien and the Kollel L’Torah U’lhorah (a division of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem) in Tamuz 5768, June 2008.

In August 2009, the Habers moved west, heading toward Los Angeles where Rabbi Haber joined the LINK-LA Kollel. After being an active member of the Kollel for several years, he joined the business world, however he is still actively involved in teaching and learning in LA.

Actively involved in all aspects of TorahLab, Tzvi has taken upon himself a quasi-role as administrator of quality control and has effectively improved and upgraded many of the smaller yet vital details involved in our site. His advice is eagerly sought and gracefully given.

Rabbi Haber is now living in the La Brea section of Los Angeles with his wonderful family. He can be contacted at