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Friday, December 11, 2009

When to Make Havdala on Chanukah

Coming into Shabbos Chanukah, one must first light the menorah, and then Shabbos candles. The logic is straightforward – once you have accepted Shabbos you can no longer light the Chanukah candles. It would seem sensible that on Motzai Shabbos the order would be reversed. First make Havdalah and close out Shabbos and then light the menorah. This is however not so simple, as we shall see.

Counter intuitively; the Shulchan Aruch (OC 681:2) simply states that in shul the menorah should be lit before Havdalah is made. The Rema adds that at home one should definitely do so because he has already made Havdalah, and thus ended Shabbos, in Shul. Concurring with the Rema is the Elyah Rabbah, Magen Avrohom, Vilna Gaon, Chemed Moshe, Beis Meir (who brings a proof from the Yerushalmi), and the Yaavetz. In fact the Yaavetz quotes his father, the Chacham Tzvi, as having laughed at those who lit Chanukah candles before Havdalah. He writes that his personal conclusion was that one should indeed light the Menorah first, and in his responsa he refutes the opposing proofs.

The Mishna Berura explains:  Although there is a general principle that when presented with two mitzvos one should do the more frequent one first, when it comes to leaving Shabbos we want to delay it as much as possible. The Beis Shearim (OC 396) contrasts this with the idea of ‘zrizim makdimim l’mitzvos’ that one should rush to do a mitzvah to show how beloved it is, so too one should be hesitant to end Shabbos thus showing how precious it is.
The Maharal writes that one should make Havdala first, out of concern that he may forget to say Havdalah earlier (in the Amidah, or by saying Baruch Hamavdil Bein Kodesh Lchol). He will then wind up lighting the Menorah before he has personally ended Shabbos. Thus, to be safe, one should make Havdalah first. This is also the opinion of the Taz, Malbushei Yom Tov, Pri Chadash and Derech Chaim.  Although the Maharal extends his line of reasoning to the Shul lighting as well, the others who concur with him limit it to lighting at home (thereby only arguing with the Rema and not with the Shulchan Aruch).

In response to the Mishna Berura’s explanation that we want to delay leaving the Shabbos the Pri Chadash writes: As soon as one does Melocha such as lighting candles he has de facto ushered out Shabbos and therefore may as well have made Havdala. The Elyah Rabba responds, that until one makes Havdala over wine, even if they have recited ‘Boruch Hamavdil’ and done Melocha, there are still remnants of the holiness of Shabbos.

There is an additional rationale to lighting the Menorah first. In theory one can make Havdala all night, but the Menorah ideally must be lit right when it gets dark. Once the hour is such that people are no longer found in the street, one may very possibly have forfeited the mitzvah to light the Menorah. Therefore, say the Avnei Nezer and the Yaavetz, one should immediately light the menorah before Havdala.

The Mishna Berura concludes that in Shul one should follow the Shulchon Aruch and light the Menorah first, at home there is Halachic legitimacy to both sides of the argument and either way is alright.


Posted on 12/11 at 02:51 PM • Permalink
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Friday, November 27, 2009

Kosev - Writing on Shabbos


Every Shabbos prohibition is derived from an action that took place in the Mishkan: Writing was performed in the Mishkan when they labeled the kerashim (posts in the Mishkan) so that they would be able to be reassembled in the proper formation. Some add that a written record of donations was kept as well.

Any method of forming a letter, drawing or symbol is considered kosev; this includes writing, cutting out shaping and so on. The inverse of writing is erasing. Although we won’t be dealing with that directly, the two are intertwined, and erasing will come up throughout this article.

In order to be obligated on a Biblical level one must have written meaningful writing. This includes:
a) Any foreign languages, stenography, Braille, Morse code or anything else that may be considered unintelligible but has significant meaning is forbidden.
b) Fingerprinting (with intention to record fingerprint) or taking an impression of a baby’s foot is forbidden.
c) Any writing surface (including skin) is forbidden.

Library Books

Many library books have words on side of book that are broken upon opening the book. The Rema writes that it is permitted; since the book is made to open and close its not considered writing and erasing. The Levush argues. The consensus of the poskim is to be lenient and permit it, but if another copy of the book is available one should use that one. The same would apply to a ripped page in a book that is straightened to read but will inevitably separate.

Scrabble, Magnets and Blocks

Placing existing letters together in a non permanent fashion is not considered writing. Therefore one may play scrabble or play with blocks that don’t adhere to a surface or to each other.
Where there is a “chibur” or connection of the letter to a surface or to the other letters, such as with scrabble deluxe (where they click into the frame), other adhesives, or puzzles that fit together, magnets, and so on there is no apparent prohibition. However the Magen Avraham (OC 340:6) hypothesizes that just as attaching silver letters to a cloth is considered writing for a ‘get’, it is also considered writing to be liable on Shabbos. Many others disagree, in fact the Nishmas Adam 37:2 writes that there is no posek that holds like this. However Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 1:135) writes that the one should be stringent and that is how the Chayei Adam and the Mishnah Berurah pasken as well.

One may not cut fruit into specific shapes on Shabbos. You may however use an ice cream scooper or a similar instrument as long as you are not particular that it be a perfect circle. 
One may not make jello in a mold on Shabbos. Rav Wosner rules that making jello is generally prohibited due to the issur of ‘Losh’.

Rabbinic Prohibitions

Any non permanent writing is Rabbinically prohibited. This is true both if the writing is temporary or if the writing surface is of a temporary nature. This includes:
Writing with frosting (which will melt) on a cake [or erasing frosting on a cake]
Writing on a misty window
Using an “etch a sketch”
Making pictures with ketchup or juice.
Asking a non-Jew to take your picture is considered Amirah L’Akum and prohibited.
Making a mark (even with a fingernail) for a significant purpose is considered kosev midrabanan.
Shinui – writing in an unusual manner such as your left hand (for a righty) or holding the pen in your mouth is forbidden on a Rabbinic level.

It is permitted to draw in the air or on a dry paper with your finger where there is no impression at all, or to make foot marks in the snow or mud inadvertently even if there are words on the bottom of your shoes.

One can obtain a mug (from Snapfish) that upon filling the mug with a hot liquid causes a picture to appear on the side of the mug. It is debatable whether this considered writing; all you’re doing is effecting a chemical reaction. Additionally it is only a temporary writing and would be Rabbinic. However one should be stringent. When there is no new picture being formed (such as the blue mountains on the Coors bottle) it is permitted.

Birthday Cake

As we mentioned, writing or erasing frosting on a cake is problematic. The Mordechai writes that one should not break a cookie that has letters written upon it. This is quoted as halacha by the Rema. Rav Ovadia Yosef writes that one may be lenient, Ashkenazim however must be stringent.

There are several exceptions:
One may give it to a child.
One may be lenient with breaking it in their mouth.
The prohibition does not apply when the letters are made of the same material as the cookie or cake, such as when made in a mold.

Prohibitions Derived from Kosev

All business transactions are forbidden on Shabbos because they are usually accompanied with writing. This extends to gift giving as well. Therefore if one brings a gift for their host on Shabbos they should either bring it before Shabbos or not present it as a gift. Similarly some shuls present a Bar Mitzvah with a set of Chumashim or the like, the Bar Mitzvah boy should be instructed to not acquire the gift on Shabbos.

With certain conditions it is permissible to buy Shabbos food on credit from a store on Shabbos itself:
a) The food is for Shabbos
b) The words buy or sell are not used
c)One may not say “I’ll pay you after Shabbos”, rather he must say “we will make arrangements after Shabbos”
d) One may not order by weight or price

Measuring is also prohibited because it is usually accompanied with writing. If the measuring is done for a mitzvah it is permitted.

Posted on 11/27 at 02:04 PM • Permalink
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Friday, November 13, 2009

Bowing and Bouncing in Jewish Law and Practice

A lot of confusion surrounds the motions of the daily prayers, particularly the bowing. I have attempted to elucidate things a bit.

Before we discuss the actual bowings, several introductions are necessary.

Biblical Bowing

In the times of the Bais Hamikdash, bowing came in several forms:
Kida – total prostration. This is very difficult to do; it basically involves falling flat on your face and then moving yourself forward with your thumbs.
Kriah – falling to your knees, often as a preparation for Hishatachvaeh
Hishatachvaeh- knees, palms and forehead on the floor
We do none of these; our bowing is referred to a ‘sicha’ or bending.

Extra Bowing

The Gemara says (Berachos 34) that one who bows in any other blessing in Shemonah Esrei should be stopped. Furthermore, the Gemara tells us that making extra bows in Hallel or in the thanksgiving portion of Grace after meals is considered distasteful.
All the Rishonim ask: The Gemara previously recorded that Rabbi Akiva would begin praying in one corner of the room and due to his excessive prostrations would end up in a different corner of the room. They resolve this in several different ways:
• He bowed in the middle of the blessings, not the beginning or end. (Tosfos, Rosh, Mordechai)
• It refers to his own added blessings after he finished the formal Shemonah Esrei (Re’ah , Ritva, Raavad)
• The prohibition is specifically in blessings of thanksgiving. Hodaah has a dual inflection – thanksgiving and submission. When intended primarily as submission Chazal legislate bowing. It is therefore ‘distasteful’ to bow in other blessings of thanks, for that implies a different understanding in the prayers than intended by Chazal. (Taz, Meiri, Chidushei Anshei Shem).
The practical ramifications of this dispute will come into play shortly.

Shemonah Esrei

The only bowings legislated by the Gemara are the ones in the Amidah. The Gemara (Berachos 34) tells us there are four times one should bow; the beginning and end of Avos and the beginning and end of Hodaah.
Additionally the Yerushalmi writes that one should bow together with the Shaliach Tzibur at Modim. (We’ll get back to that soon).
The bowing the Gemara refers to is just bowing ‘like a reed’ and doesn’t involve the bending of the knees. The source of bowing at the knees when saying Boruch is the Zohar in Parshas Eikev, first quoted as a Halachic obligation by the Magen Avrohom (113:4).
According to all opinions, one should revert back to an upright position before uttering the name of Hashem, both in Modim, and in the other Berachos.
All other bowings were added to the prayer service. We will attempt to go through them.

Zokef Kefufim

The morning blessings were originally intended to be said as the actions to which they refer were performed. The blessing of “He who straightens the bent” was initially instituted to be recited as one straightens up first thing in the morning.  Now we say them all at once before beginning davening, and this is no longer applicable.


The Shulchan Aruch (OC 56:4) counts five bows that are to be made during Kaddish. The Vilna Gaon strongly objects to this practice, and writes than there should be no bowing during the Kaddish as this violates the precept to not add bowing.


The universal custom is to bow when reciting Borchu, both during the davening and when receiving an Aliyah. The Mogen Giborim questions the source of this minhag (which has been around for a while, it’s recorded by the Kol Bo). The Biur Halacha (113) suggests the verse in Divrei Hayamim (1:29:2) which indicates that all bowed when reciting Borchu. He concludes that Minhag Yisroel Torah, and it should definitely be done. 
The Magen Avraham brings a dispute as to whether one should bow when reciting Borchu specifically upon receiving an Aliyah. The Aruch Hashulchan writes that the custom was to not bow. Even the Aruch Hashulchan agrees that one should definitely bow at Borchu during davening.
The Shaarei Teshuva writes (57:1) that one should face east until after one completes “Boruch Hashem Hamevorach Leolam Va’ed” The Aruch Hashulchan is dubious about this, and writes that is not Halachically imperative.

Modim DeRabannan

The Yerushalmi writes that when the Chazzan reaches Modim the congregation should bow with him. There are several approaches:
The Shulchon Aruch says you should bow at the beginning, and adds that some say to bow at the end of Modim DeRabannan as well, and he recommends doing so.
The Rema writes the minhag is to say the whole Modim DeRabannan in a bowed state.
The Bach says not to bow, rather to just bow the head slightly, the Mishna Berura comments that this is not the Minhag.

Oseh Shalom – The End of the Amidah

The Shulchan Aruch writes that one should bow and take three steps back at the end of Shemonah Esrei. He should remain bowed and then, after completing the three steps, while still in a bowed position, turn to the left and say Oseh Shalom Bimromav, turn to the right and say Hu Yaaseh Shalom, Aleinu, and then bow forward and say V’al kol Yisrael Veimru Amen.


Some have a custom to bow when saying “zeh el zeh”. The Minhag Yisrael Torah struggles to find a source for this, ultimately attributing it the Lelover Siddur.
The custom to rise up to one’s toes when reciting “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh” is brought by the Rema (127). The Shelah adds Boruch and Yimloch as well.

Birkas Kohanim

The Magen Avraham (127:3) quotes the Zohar who writes that the Chazzan should face in specific directions when reciting the Priestly Blessing in the repetition. At Yevarechacha he faces toward the Aron Kodesh, at Yishmerecha his right. At Yaer Hashem he faces the Ark, at Eilecha Veyichunecha he faces his right. (Cf. Siddur Yaavetz). The Minhag Yisrael Torah records a dispute as to whether one should bow slightly as well.

Posted on 11/13 at 03:12 PM • Permalink
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Friday, November 06, 2009

Hachnasas Orchim - Welcoming Guests

General Overview

The Mitzvah of inviting guest to our homes is a well known one, and one which I was fortunate enough to have ingrained in my psyche from a very young age, thanks to my parent’s very open house policy. It behooves us to understand the greatness of this Mitzvah, as well as how to be a proper host and guest from a Halachic perspective.
Chazal have promised great blessings to those who welcome guests into their homes. It is counted amongst the mitzvos that one ‘receives the fruit from in this world, but his capital remains undiminished in the World to Come’.  One who performs Hachnosas Orchim properly merits children, as we see from Avraham, who after feeding his guests was told that he will have children.Its also inferred from the Shunamite woman, who after hosting Elisha was promised a son. (Tanchuma Ki Setzei, Yalkut Shimoni Mishlei 4:837)

We find many examples of Hachnosas Orchim throughout Tanach. I’d like to list them, as well as the applicable lessons derived.

Noach – Was invited into the Ark by G-d. From here the Zohar learns that one should verify that his guest is not evil (Hashem first proclaimed Noach a Tzaddik and then told him to enter the ark). Additionally, onemust be invited, and cannot bring along his family unless explicitly allowed (Hashem instructed Noach to enter the Ark with his household).
Avraham –Left an audience with Hashem to go take care of his guests, teaching us that Hachnosas Orchim takes precedence over speaking to the Shechina. He would actively seek guests. He would give them food that was of better quality than they were used to receiving. He built roadside stands with food and drink for travelers.  The Gemara in Bava Metzia 87 goes through the entire story of Avraham step by step and explains how the Jewish People were repaid by G-d for Avraham’s chesed. The actions performed by Abraham himself were repaid by Hashem himself, those delegated to a messenger were repaid via messenger.
Lot – Risked his life to invite guests to his home, who in turn saved Lot’s life.
Eliezer and Rivka – Eliezer devised a litmus test of eligibility to marry Yitzchak based on how the prospective young lady would invite him to the house. Rivka passed with flying colors, thus becoming a Matriarch of the Jewish People.
Yisro - Told his daughters to invite Moshe Rabeinu to their home, and was rewarded by having descendents who were members of the Sanhedrin.
Egypt – Although our sojourn there was far from pleasant, we are instructed to have gratitude to the Egyptians for hosting us. This is manifested in two ways: a) We must accept them as converts and b) the Gemara (Eruvin 118) writes that when Mashiach comes Egypt will want to bring him a gift, he will want to refuse it, but Hashem will instruct him to accept it “for they had provided refuge for My children”.
Amon and Moav – Did not offer us food when we passed by them on our journey through the desert. As a result their men are not allowed to join the Jewish nation, even though they descend from Lot and by right should be closer than others.
Shunamis – The Shunamite woman who provided a small room for Elisha when he passed through. As a result she was blessed with a son.
Yehonasan – Did not bring King David bread. This led to a chain of events that ultimately led to the massacre of the city of Nov and the death of Saul and three of his sons.
Micha – Avoided having his name placed in tis rightful spot on the notorious list of people who have no share in the World to Come, because he offered bread to all wayfarers.
The False Prophet – A false prophet misled Ido Hanavi, and caused him to violate the Word of G-d. But since he had given him food he merited true prophecy.
Iyov – had a house that was open on four sides and was known for his hospitality. Although the Gemara reports that he did not measure up to Avraham Avinu’s standards, it’s obvious that he excelled in this mitzvah.

Who is considered a Halachic Guest?

Although it is commendable for one to have many guests, there is a criterion that needs to be met in order to be considered a Halachic guest.
The Rema (333:1) explains that a Halachic guest is one who is sleeping at his house, or is sleeping at someone else’s house (not his own) and you are inviting them for a meal. Such a meal is considered a Seudas Mitzvah. The Mishna Berura adds that one may invite others to honor his Halachic guest and that would also supersede the above Rabbinic prohibitions.
The guest can be rich or poor, although with a poor guest one has the added benefit of Tzedaka.
If one accepts payment for hosting guests it is not considered fulfillment of the mitzvah (Kaf Hachaim 333)
There are certain halachos that are affected by guests:
The Gemara relates that having guests is equal, or perhaps greater than, going to learn Torah. The Chofetz Chaim writes that if one is on their way to learn and a guest arrives, if no one else is available to take care of the guests he should postpone his learning to take care of the guests.
There are certain secondary Rabbinic prohibitions that are suspended on Shabbos in order to do a Mitzvah, these would be suspended for a Halachic guest as well. The Mishna Berura adds that one may invite others to honor his Halachic guest and that would also supersede these Rabbinic prohibitions.

One can salt his meat for less time than usual if he has waiting guests

How to Host

The Chofetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed 3:2) explains that the story of Avraham was given to us to understand how to properly host guests. Some of the lessons:
Offer water to wash up
Before offering food, offer rest
If the guest is rushing, don’t delay them
Bring each dish as it is ready
Include your children
Walk the guest out
He then adds other dinim that he collected from other Seforim:
Greet your guests smilingly
Don’t tell them all your financial problems - portray yourself as financially secure so that they don’t feel badly about eating from your food.
Don’t watch them eat so as not to embarrass them.
Put your guests in your best beds.
Walk them out; give them directions to get them where they’re going. The Rambam writes that this is the most important part of the Mitzvah and one who is lazy about this is considered paramount to a murderer. [As deduced from the Eglah Erufah incident]. The Chazon Ish said that in a place where there are other people in the street he may not be obligated.
The minimum one should escort his guests is 8 feet outside of the house.
If possible designate a room in your home as a ‘guest room’.
One should not invite someone he knows will refuse the invitation in order to score ‘points’ with them. (Chullin 94a)
The Gemara says a woman has a better read on the guests than a man
One isn’t obligated to trust their guests (Kallah 9 – see story there)

How to be a Guest

One must be invited and wanted
Stay in the same place every time unless they don’t want you.
One should not feed his hosts children without express permission
A guest may invite another guest (Bava Basra 98b) however Chazal refer to this practice as despicable (Derech Eretz Zuta 8)
A good guest recognizes the difficulties the host has gone through to host him (Berachos 58a)
One should inquire as to the welfare of the host’s household
A guest is obligated to follow all the directives of their host (excluding a directive to leave, according to one version in the Gemara) (Pesachim 86b)
There is a special blessing that is to be recited by a guest during Birkas Hamazon for the host. This is obligatory (Shulchan Aruch OC 201)

Communal Obligation

There is a communal obligation to host all guests. Members of the community can ‘force’ each other to have guests.


Posted on 11/06 at 02:18 PM • Permalink
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Fish and Meat

You buy some Tropicana Orange Juice with Omega 3’s added. Your mother always told you to drink OJ with your Salami, so you pour a tall glass to go with your deli sandwich. As you’re pouring, the “OK fish” designation catches your eye. What are the implications?

You’re the cook in a large camp. Hurried and late on Friday afternoon, you grab what you think is a loaf of kishka from the freezer and toss it into the chulent. Shabbos morning you realize the chulent smells a little funny. Upon closer inspection you realize it was a loaf of gefilte fish. What now?

In an effort to lower your cholesterol you switch from hamburgers to grilled fish. Can you use the same grill? How well does it have to be cleaned?

You use Worcestershire Sauce to prepare your steaks. Your grilling buddies point out that it contains anchovies. May you continue to use it?

The Prohibition

The Gemara in Pesachim 76b states: “Fish that was roasted together with meat should not be eaten for it is bad for odor and for something else”.  Odor refers to bad breath (Mordechai) “something else refers to tzaraas (Rashi).

The Shulchon Aruch rules (YD 116:2) that one should not eat meat and fish together because it causes tzaaras. The Rema adds that they should not be roasted together because ‘Reicha’ or smell is considered significant and transfers from one to the other but if done it is not forbidden. If they are cooked together (not roasted) or they are close enough that the juices ooze from one to the other, they are forbidden.

In fact, in the Darkei Moshe the Rema writes that even though when meat and milk mix if one is less than 1/60th we consider it nullified and it is permitted, in this case we won’t say that because of “chamira sekanta meisura”. This is a Talmudic concept that teaches that we are more stringent for health related prohibitions than other prohibitions. Some Poskim are lenient and allow it to be nullified in 60.

Fish and meat may be eaten consecutively, but there is a dispute as to whether one needs to wash their hands and mouth between them. Sefardim are stringent and Ashkenazim are more lenient. Many (Ashkenazi) Poskim say that one should take a drink and/or eat something such as bread between them. This is the source for the post fish lechaim. [There is a Halachic basis to not drink water after fish. Hence the minhag developed to drink schnapps]. 

The Leniencies

All this only applies to actual fish residue. One may use the same pots for fish and meat as long as they are cleaned well. (Unlike milk and meat, where we say that some flavor is absorbed in the walls of the pot themselves). Similarly, meaty knives may be used for fish as long as they are clean.

Magen Avrohom (173) writes that nowadays there is no danger in mixing fish and meat and perhaps there is room to be lenient. The universal custom is not like the Magen Avrohom. [The Rambam does not quote this Halacha, presumably for the same reason].

The Divrei Malkiel is lenient on Shabbos, as far as I know the custom is not to be lenient.

Fish and Milk

The custom among many Sefardim is not to eat milk and fish together (think lox and cream cheese, tuna melt). They are lenient with butter on fish though.

Kashrus Organization Policy

As far as I can ascertain, the OU will mark an item with more than 1/60th fish as OU fish. Less than 1/60th they will not mark, but the fish will be listed on the ingredient panel for those who are stringent. The primary application is kosher marshmallows and Worcestershire Sauce. I don’t know what the OK policy is as far as the Omega 3 OJ is concerned, if anyone knows please comment.


Posted on 10/23 at 10:52 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Writing of Torah Shebal Peh (the Oral Law)

The Writing of Torah Shebal Peh (the Oral Law)

Based on Halichos Olam

Torah Shebal Peh is not allowed to be written down (Gittin 60b)

The reason for this is that this ensures an accurate transmission from generation to generation because one will have to study from a master who will ensure that he is understood correctly. (Ritva Ibid).

Rabbeinu HaKadosh (also known as Rebbi and Rav Yehuda Hanasi) (165-220CE) lived in the last generation of Tannaic scholars, and realized that due to the series of tyrannical rulers over Israel, and the laws and edicts forbidding Torah study, Torah Shebal Peh was being forgotten.

Due to Rebbi’s unique relationship with Antoninus, the Roman Emporer, there was a brief respite from the Jews troubles. Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi took advantage of the opportunity to, with the agreement of his contemporaries, convene a meeting of all the receivers of the mesorah of the Oral Law. They all recalled their teachings and it was written down and organized by Rebbi.

This work, known as the Mishnah (literally review) included anything that was transmitted from Moshe Rabbeinu on Mt Sinai and all their practical applications and disputes in theory practical applications. It also included later edicts, rules and safeguards that were enacted by the Rabbis.

The Mishna has six sections:

a) Zeraim – deals with the laws of agriculture
b) Moed – deals with calendrical events
c) Nashim – laws of marriage, divorce, levirate marriage and other marriage and vow related issues
d) Nezikin – laws of damages and monetary law
e) Kodshim – laws of sacrifices and other Temple related laws
f) Taharos – laws of Ritual purity and impurity

As the Mishnayos were typically precisely worded and cryptic, several of Rebbi’s students wrote parallel texts explaining the Mishanayos with additional reasoning and textual sourcing. These are known as Braisos or Tosefta.

Several generations later, a need was once again established to write down the Torah Shebal Peh by Rav Ashi, this time with much more detail and in greater length. This work, known as the ‘Gemara’, is based on the Mishnah but is an all-encompassing work and much broader in scope than the Mishnah.

The Gemara, or Talmud, has four objectives:

1) To fully explain the Mishnayos in their entirety and to add any additional dialogue that may have postdated the Mishna. To this end, the Gemara will often bring in Braisos to help elucidate the Mishnayos.
2) To issue a definitive ruling in the case of a dispute
3) To add any gezeiros or edicts that had been issued since the Mishna
4) To add various moral and ethical lessons to the masoretic tradition

This work was largely done by Rav Ashi in two editions (Baba Basra 157b) it was then added to very minutely by the Rabanan Sovrai, at which point (498CE) it was closed to further annotations.

For a more over-arching view of Torah Shebal Peh please read Rabbi Fink’s excellent article. Make sure to read the comments as well.


Posted on 10/13 at 05:47 AM • Permalink
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Friday, October 09, 2009

Simchas Torah (and Shabbos) sales

Many shuls have a Simchas Torah auction. In this auction the honors of the day, the aliyos, hakafos, Mussaf and so on are sold to the highest bidder. Many synagogues take this a step further and sell the honors for the whole year such as the ‘honor’ of being allowed to pay the electric bill. I believe this honor is still available at my Shul, drop me a line if you’re interested.

What is the permissibility of such an auction? After all, we know that one is not allowed to talk about money or engage in buying or selling on Yom Tov and Shabbos!

The Halacha is that one may say they are giving a specific amount of money to Tzedaka on Shabbos. The Rema (306:6) uses this to explain how we may give a specific amount to the Shul upon receiving a Mi Sheberech, the prayer for one who has been called up to the Torah. Perhaps a natural extension of this law would be to allow an auction for mitzvos as well.

The Maharshal however, quoted by the Magen Avrohom, is hesitant to embrace this extension. In an effort to resolve the minhag he says that perhaps there is no ‘Mekach Umemkar’ or business dealings which are prohibited on Shabbos with Mitzvos. In any case, selling seats or other tangibles would definitely be prohibited according to the Mahrshal.  He recommends that in all auctions the bidders should resolve to pay their bid whether or not they win the auction. That way it’ll be less business-like and more Mi Shebeirech like. I hear there was a Shul in California that actually did this.  I’m sure most Rabbis and Shul presidents could easily adapt to this minhag.

The Aruch Hashulchan, in an effort to justify the practice explains: The bidders aren’t bidding as in a conventional auction. Rather they are saying that if I am privileged to receive the Aliyah, (or other honor) then I will give such and such to Tzedaka. He concludes that one should not question this practice and it is unequivocally permitted. He mentions the concept of all the bidders, even the losers, giving their bid to Tzedakah and he calls this a pious act but not obligatory. [The Aruch Hashulchan does stress that this is only in reference to intangibles, seats and such would definitely be prohibited].

The Mishna Berura in a more tempered approach writes that there are those who allow the bidding practice and those who disallow it, and in a place where it is done one should not protest it.

I have seen of late several shuls who offer an online auction before yomtov. This approach would prevent any potential problems, (and enable one to pay with Paypal).


Posted on 10/09 at 12:45 PM • Permalink
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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Hoshana Rabbah – Doing It Right


The seventh day of Sukkos is known as Hoshana Rabbah, the day of many Hoshanos (or Hosanna’s). We will attempt to shed some light on the practices of the day.

The origins of Hoshana Rabbah are in the Mishnah (Sukkah 4:5) which informs us that the custom was to circle the Mizbeach one time on each day of Sukkos and seven times on the seventh day. So too we circle the Bimah one Hoshana each day of Sukkos and seven Hoshanos on the Seventh day.

Hosha Na is literally a plea for salvation. In the Beis Hamikdash while circling the Mizbeach they would exclaim either ‘Ana Hashem Hoshea Na’ from the Hallel prayer, or ‘Ani V’Ho Hoshia Na’ which Rashi explains is the Gematria of Ana Hashem. [Rashi, in an unusual deviation from his classic pshat style offers an alternative Kabalistic explanation based on the verses describing the Clouds of Glory surrounding the Jewish People in the desert.

The Rishonim explain that the reason that this is specifically done on the seventh day of Sukkos is as follows: Sukkos is the Day of Judgment for water. This means rain and, in a broader sense, all livelihood. We therefore add special prayers to ask for a good year. The Gemara records a dispute as to whether this is a prophetically ordained custom or not, but we do know that it traces back to the Beis Hamikdash. 

The Night

The Mogen Avrohom records: The custom is to stay awake on the night of Hoshana Rabbah. There is a ‘Tikun’ some are accustomed to say, and the Avudraham, writes that one should review the entire Torah from beginning to end. Many places, as per the Arizal, are accustomed to read the entire book of Devarim, which is considered Mishna Torah a review of the other four books. (Presumably this is in preparation for Simchas Torah, the celebration of the completion of the Torah). According to the Arizal one should then recite the entire book of Tehillim. Some have a custom to actually read this from a Torah Scroll; others have Halachic objections to reading from a Torah without the proper blessings etc.

Many others are accustomed to just study Torah, any Torah, on the night of Hoshana Rabbah. Many shuls offer shiurim and classes for those who are interested.

The Morning

Some men go to the Mikvah, The Pesukei D’zimrah for Yom Tov and Shabbos is recited with two important changes. A) Mizmor L’Todah is added and B) Nishmas is omitted. The Chazzan wears a kittel. The rest of Davening proceeds as Chol Hamoed.
The Shulchon Aruch brings a Minhag to loosen the bindings of the Lulav. They should still remain tied but loosened on the top part of the Lulav. There is some discussion as to when precisely to do this; it seems that at least for the blessing on the Lulav it should still be tied as usual.

As mentioned, during Hoshanos we circle the Bimah seven times instead of the usual one. In some congregations they blow the Shofar after each circuit.

We then return to our seats and proceed with the various tefillos for rain and sustenance. At some point during this exercise we exchange the Lulav for the Hoshana bundle. 

The consensus of the Poskim and the Arizal is that one should never holds the Lulav and the Hoshanos together. There are four opinions as to when the exchange happens:
1) Rema writes that we make the switch when we begin the prayers for water (commonly understood to mean upon returning to our seats). 
2) The Shelah writes that one should make the trade before the Taaneh Amunim prayer which is the custom and (or perhaps because) how it is printed in most Sidurim.
3) The Taz recommends switching at the very end right before ‘Kol Mevaser’, and
4) the Arizal will have you holding the Lulav until after the Kaddish and only then switching and immediately proceeding with the banging.

The Rema writes that the bundle is waved, just as the Lulav is waved. The Aruch Hashulchan says that although this is not our minhag one should wave their Hoshana bundle a little bit so as to fulfill the Rema.

The Banging

When to Bang: Some bang immediately before the final Kaddish, Some in the middle of Kaddish before Tiskabel and some after the end of Kaddish which was the Minhag of the Arizal and is quoted by the Baer Haitiv.

How to bang:  The Mechaber is very laissez-faire about this. He says that you bang two or three times, on the floor or on vessels. The Arizal says to bang specifically on the floor five times. This signifies that you are ‘burying’ the judgment. In fact the Ben Ish Chai writes that it must be specifically unpaved, virgin earth. There is however an advantage to banging on vessels for they cause the leaves to fall off which symbolizes shredding the decrees. Therefore the Pri Megadim and the Mishna Berura recommend following the Arizal, and then continuing to bang on vessels until some of the leaves fall off. To continue banging until all the leaves fall off is, in the words of the Chaye Adam, childish gleeful play.

The Hoshana Bundle

The minimum shiur for the Hoshanos is one stalk with one leaf on it. The Rema however refers to doing so as uncouth and recommends procuring beautiful Hoshanos.

Halachically three Aravos are recommended; the Arizal recommended using five branches. The Levush is of the opinion that there should be seven branches. The common custom is to have five branches in the bundle.

The bundle is often tied together with strips of Lulav or even rubber bands (as per the Magen Avrohom) or strips of Aravah itself (as per the Pri Migadim). There exists a Minhag not to tie them at all as well.

Some have a custom to obtain a bundle for every member of their family. There are various opinions as to the propriety of recycling Hoshana bundles; it seems that halachically as long as the leaves are still attached it would be ok.

Disposal: There is a custom to save the Hoshanos as kindling for the Matzah baking. The custom to throw the Hoshanos on top of the Aron HaKodesh is of dubious origins, some felt it should not be done as it is a bizayon of the Mitzvah, and others felt it was consistently in the spirit of banging them on the ground.

As an aside, the custom for pregnant women to bite the pitom off the Esrog is brought in the Nazir Shimshon to Mesechta Sukkah. It is heavily attacked by the Mekor Chaim (author of the Chavos Yair) who writes that thankfully this Minhag has already been stopped by the Tzenah Urenah and it should not be done. At the very least, it should not be done until after Simchas Torah according to all opinions.

The Meal

It is customary to have a festive meal on Hoshana Rabbah. Traditionally Kreplach are served as is the custom on Purim and Erev Yom Kippur. This meal should not take place after Mincha Ketanah, (9 Halachic hours into the day) and preferably should begin before Chatzos (Halachic midday).


Posted on 10/07 at 12:53 PM • Permalink
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Well Rested Candle

When making Havdala after Yom Kippur one is obligated to use a light ‘that rested’.  This is unique to Yom Kippur, on a regular Saturday night there is no such obligation.  What does this mean? And why?

A “ner sheshavas”, light that rested, requires that one light their Havdala candle on Motzai Yom Kippur from 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.

Therefore, if Yom Kippur is on Shabbos the Poskim write that we may use a new flame, however the minhag is to use an existing flame then as well.

A candle that was lit in honor of Yom Kippur, and not for light, is a subject of dispute in Halacha. The recommended practice is to either use a candle that was lit before Yom Kippur specifically for after Yom Kippur, and not in honor of Yom Kippur. If one only has a candle that was lit in honor of Yom Kippur he should light a candle from that (which is not as bad as a brand new flame) and make the bracha on both together.

In the event that one cannot find a flame that had been burning from before Yom Kippur one should not make the blessing on the candle during Havdalah.


Posted on 09/24 at 10:56 AM • Permalink
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Apple Dipped in Honey – Siman or Superstition?

There is a Biblical prohibition against ‘Nachash’ or incantations. This generally refers to using various signs to interpret what the future holds. The examples given by the Gemara include one who says that since my bread fell out of my mouth or my walking stick fell from my hand I will not go to a particular place today.

However the Gemara elsewhere offers a list of signs that one may do. “Rav Ami says: If one wants to know how a business venture or a trip will go he should raise a rooster. If it develops nicely, that is a sign that things will go well”. After citing several similar examples the Gemara then says “Abaye said, now that we have established that ‘simanim’ or omens are significant, on Rosh Hashanah one should see a gourd, fenugreek, leek, beets, and date.” The reason for this list is because all of these items have names or charachteristics that are consistent with blessing. [The Gemara uses the term see, indeed some Poskim say the simanim may be merely seen and don’t have to be eaten].

Rav Ami and Abaye are seemingly fundamentally different. Rav Ami is discussing predicting the future, and Abaye is extrapolating to making a good omen on Rosh Hashanah. Explains the Derishah, once Rav Ami had established that we are not concerned with the prohibition of Nachash, Abaye then allows us to use omens and not be concerned with Nachash their either.

So it would seem that at least with regard to the various omens that we do on Rosh Hashanah, there is no problems as far as divination and incantation are concerned.

The Meiri, in his commentary on the Gemara elucidates this. He explains: Divination of any form is definitely forbidden. However when done as an inspiration for Teshuva and not as a serious sign it is permitted. It is therefore imperative, says the Meiri, to recite the Yehi Ratzon as an introductory prayer to the siman to show it is not being eaten as an omen rather as a prayer and inspiration.

The Tur brings the Gemara quoted above, and adds that it was the custom in Ashkenaz to eat apple dipped in honey. The Beis Yosef in his commentary on the Tur notes that the Tur made no mention of the Yehi Ratzon and holds that it wasn’t necessary. It would seem that he wasn’t concerned with the superstitios divinations that may be associated with eating the simanim.

The Mharsha takes an interesting middle sort of approach. He explains that the only divination that is forbidden is when predicting a bad event. When predicting a good event a ‘sign’ is permitted. The rationale is that Hashem showers down a constant stream of good to us. Therefore predicting good is only affirming our belief in Hashem’s goodness. Bad events are caused by our missteps and wrongdoings. They are fully preventable and reversible. Therefore to predict a future bad event as a certain thing would demonstrate a disbelief in Hashem’s constant benevolence and is therefore forbidden.

This concept is debated elsewhere as well. The Gemara in Chullin 95b declares: “any Neichush that is not as the Neichush of Eliezer and of Yonasan are not considered Neichush.” The Gemara is referring to the two well known divinations in Tanach. The first one is where Eliezer declared that the first young lady who offers him and his camel’s water will be the match for Yitzchak. The second was where Yonason was penetrating the Philistine camp and said that if they invite us in it’ll be a sign that Hashem has given them into our hands.

Tosfos asks: How could Eliezer and Yonason do so? Isn’t that nachash? Answers Tosfos that they didn’t mean it as a sign, they just meant it as an extra chizuk. If things wouldn’t have gone as they had divined they would have gone ahead with their plans anyway.

The Radak (quoted by Rav Akiva Eiger) has a different approach. He differentiates in intention. If one divines from a certain event that has already happened that he should or should not act in a particular way, that shows that he is ascribing powers to the stick or bread or black cat that its telling him to act in a certain way, and is forbidden. If however one asks Hashem to give him a sign that he should go ahead with his plans, as Eliezer and Yonason did, and it happened as he had asked, that is just a sign of trust in Hashem and is permitted.

The Rambam prohibits asking for a sign and saying that if such and such happens then he will act in a particular way. As an example of what is forbidden he brings Eliezer! The Raavad very strongly says “He has made a great mistake, for what Eliezer did was fully permitted!”

It would seem that the dispute between Rambam and Raavad as the same dispute as between Tosfos and the Radak.

Kesiva Vechasima Tova - May we all be blessed with a happy sweet New Year


Posted on 09/17 at 10:00 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Laws of Selichos

Which Day to Start

The Shulchon Aruch (581:1) writes that beginning Rosh Chodesh Elul, through Yom Kippur, we awaken early in the morning in order to increase supplications. Thankfully, the Rema intercedes and says: this is not the minhag of Ashkenazi Jews. Rather we begin blowing Shofar and saying Psalm 27 after davening beginning Rosh Chodesh Elul, and the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah we begin awakening early to say Selichos.  If Rosh Hashanah is earlier than Thursday then we begin the previous Sunday so as to always have four days of Selichos. We always start on a Sunday so as to have a specific known starting day.

The Levush explains the need to have four days of Selichos is so as to have a total of ten weekdays from the beginning of Selichos through Yom Kippur. There was a minhag to fast ten days total during this season (corresponding to the Aseres yemei teshuvah) and the four days that are forbidden to fast are made up for in the four days leading up to Rosh Hashanah.

An additional reason given by the Elyah Rabbah for the four day minimum is that just as a Korban has a four day ‘bikkur’ or inspection period, so to we must inspect ourselves for four days preceding Rosh Hashanah.

Time of Day

The Shulchon Aruch records the ideal time for Selichos as ‘Beashmoros’ which is the time immediately preceding dawn. The Magen Avrohom tells us that at that time Hashem focuses on this world and it is therefore an auspicious time for asking forgiveness.

Although the Shulchon Aruch and Magen Avrohom are clearly directing one to the very early morning, we find that anytime after Chatzos (halachic midnight) is considered an auspicious time. (Berachos 3b). In fact, the Gemara says that at exactly midnight a northern wind would blow through King David’s chambers and play his harp, thus serving as his alarm clock. King David would then arise and engage in Tefillah and Torah for the remainder of the night.

However before Chatzos the Magen Avrohom rules expressly (566:5) that one should not say any form of Selichos or the 13 midos (Hashem Hashem etc.) under any circumstances except for on Yom Kippur.

This can prove to be problematic. The common minhag is that the first Selichos on Sunday is said the preceding night. This should be done after Chatzos. However many years this is close to 1 am. (this year in Los Angeles it’s 12.50 am).

Rav Moshe Feinstein (OC 1:105) ruled as a ‘Horaas Shah’ (temporary ruling) that in a situation where no one will attend Selichos if it’s held very late at night, it can be pulled earlier so as that people won’t miss out on the inspiration gained by attending Selichos. It is important to note that those Selichos are not as ‘effective’ as ones said in the proper time. Additionally it is better to schedule Selichos for after the second third of the night [calculated by dividing the time from sunset to sunrise into three]. According to some opinions this is as good as after Chatzos.

Even for one who would apply Reb Moshe’s heter, there is an additional problem. The Shaarei Teshuvah writes that the kedushah of Shabbos extends until Chatzos and therefore it is forbidden to say Selichos then, as it is on Shabbos. Rav Moshe ruled that this too is waived in these difficult circumstances.

Rav Moshe adds that it is important for anyone who relies on this psak to publicize that this is a temporary situation and scheduling will return to its proper halachic time of after Chatzos as soon as circumstances allow.

It is also worth noting that the Kaf Hachaim quotes sources who very vehemently oppose saying Selichos at night and writes that it is better not to attend, and if one attends they should not participate.

When one does recite Selichos at a time that is different from the established one he should be careful to change the wording of the Selichos to reflect that. (c.f. Aruch Hashulchan 581:4 for specific examples).

Who Should Lead the Davening

The criterion for a Shaliach Tzibur of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur applies to Selichos as well. There is a custom that he who leads Selichos should also lead the rest of the prayers and Minchah. Some say he should even lead the preceding Maariv.

Davening Alone

One should be extra particular to say Selichos with a minyan. If one is forced to Daven alone he should skip the Aramaic parts of Selichos and must say the Hashem Hashem.. with the tune that is used to read them in the Torah.


Posted on 09/08 at 07:07 AM • Permalink
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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Walking In His Ways – The Footsteps of G-d

אֶת יְהוָה הֶאֱמַרְתָּ הַיּוֹם לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵאלֹהִים וְלָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו - דברים כו:יז

כִּי תִשְׁמֹר אֶת מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו - דברים כח:ט

Twice in Parshas Ki Savo we are told to “walk in the ways of Hashem.” How could we walk in the ways of Hashem?

The Gemara in Sotah (14a) delineates the actions of Hashem: He clothes the naked (Adam and Chava) visited the sick (Avraham Avinu) comforted the mourning (after Sarah’s death), buried the dead (Moshe Rabeinu) and so on. The Gemara states that by doing these things we will be considered walking after Hashem.

The Gemara in Shabbos (133b) states “one should be similar to Hashem; just as He is compassionate and merciful so should you be.”

Then we have the Rambam. Maimonides (Deos 1) spends several paragraphs explaining how people have various character traits, some natural, some culturally influenced and some self taught. He advises that one find the exact middle path equidistant to the extremes of each trait and practices that middle. For example, some people are always very jolly and some are perpetually sad. One should find the exact balance between those two and that is the correct path. [Perhaps the Rambam doesn’t mean the middle path as much as the balanced path. One should have the proper reaction called for in every situation].

The Rambam extols one who is able to do this: He is a Chacham (wise) and a Shalem (whole). Says the Rambam “We are commanded to walk in these middle paths, and they are good and straight, for it says ‘you shall walk in His ways’. (Our passuk!)

He then says that this is what Chazal meant when they said just as he is merciful you too should be merciful. The Rambam adds a whole list of traits to this list: Holiness, kindness, strength, wholesomeness, etc.

There is a glaring question here. How is walking the middle path the way of Hashem? And how do we jump from walking the middle path to emulating Hashem’s traits?

[Indeed in Sefer Hamitzvos Aseh 8 the Rambam codifies walking the middle path in all character traits as a positive mitzvah of walking in His ways].

Every person is created in the image of G-d. This would mean, that there is a built in capability in every human being to be Godlike. This concept explains the Gemaras quoted above that show us what the traits and actions of Hashem are so that we know what we are able to do and what levels we are supposed to reach.

Along comes the Rambam and says: Don’t think that the only goal is to emulate Hashem, even the pathway to emulation is unto itself a Mitzvah! Of course the ultimate pinnacle of perfection is to be totally Godlike, but even the pathway to that goal is a Mitzvah. And that pathway is found by choosing the middle, balanced approach to every situation. And that is the Mitzvah of walking in His ways.

Indeed, the Sefer Hachereidim records this as Mitzvah that can be performed every moment of every day by everyone. Because in every situation that we are faced with, in every decision we make, if we choose the proper balanced approach we are maximizing our potential as a Tzelem Elokim, an image of G-d, and that is a positive commandment. (c.f. Daas Torah Bamidbar p.225)

Interestingly, Rav Saadiah Gaon doesn’t count this as a mitzvah, and explains that it is included in “veahvta es Hashem Elokechah” loving Hashem. Perhaps we can explain this with R Yeruchem Levovitz’s explanation of ‘walking in His ways’. R’ Yeruchem explains that if someone loves and respects someone immensely, be it a teacher or a public figure, they start imitating them, even subconsciously, because they want to be like them. (Imagine bochurim talking like their favorite Rebbe). If one loves and respect Hashem properly, they almost automatically will try to be like Him. Hence it is included in the mitzvah of loving Hashem!!

This time of year, when there is a special closeness between the Jewish Nation and Hashem is perhaps the most auspicious time to intensify our efforts to walk in His ways and emulate His traits.


Posted on 09/03 at 08:00 AM • Permalink
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Manscaping and Other Cross-Gender Dress Issues

I was recently asked about the halachic permissibility of Manscaping. Although waxing my back is not something I would ever succumb to willingly, it is said that there are men who do so. Perhaps more common is eyebrow razing and nose hair plucking. What is the Halachic stance on this?

“Male garb shall not be on a woman, and a man should not wear a woman’s garment, for anyone who does so is an abomination of Hashem.”

The Gemara explains that the potential abomination is that a man or a woman who dresses as the opposite gender does so in order to mingle with that gender for promiscuous reasons. 

The Gemara elaborates on what is included in this prohibition:

It is prohibited for a woman to carry weaponry, traditionally a male item. In fact this is how the Targum translates the first part of our Possuk. Interestingly, the Targum Yonason in Shoftim writes that the reason why Yael killed Sisra with a tent peg and not a conventional weapon was to circumvent this prohibition. Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that a woman may carry a handgun, and learn how to use it, in a dangerous climate.

Clothing includes ornaments, trinkets and jewelry that are normally worn by the other gender.

A woman may not wear a mans hat, jacket or other item of clothing that is not worn by women in that society, and vice versa, a man may not wear a woman’s item even if it is clear from the rest of their garb as to what their true gender is. The Bach and Taz say that in a case of necessity such as when the clothing is worn to protect from the cold or the heat it is permissible, but the Shach is not that comfortable with this heter.

The Yereim explains this is even when it is done as a joke or skit. However the Rema (OC 696), when discussing the laws of Purim, writes that the Minhag is to not be machmir when it is done in fun, and the Pri Megadim adds that this is especially true when only one garment is of the other gender and the masquerader is easily identifiable as their true gender. The Shelah and others however caution against doing so. 

Similarly, in a society where it is usual for men to shave other parts of their body the Gaonim write that it is permissible to do so (although they recommend that a ‘chaver’ refrains from doing so). The Rambam, while conceding that in such circumstances he would not receive Malkos holds that it is still forbidden.

The Rema clearly does pasken like the Gaonim that it is fully permissible to do whatever is acceptable in the society in which he lives. Rav Akiva Eiger, quoting the Perisha, explains that society for this purpose is defined by the society at large and not only by the Jewish community. 

So to answer our question, it would seem that at least for American Ashkenazim it would be permissible to trim their eyebrows and nose hairs. Other body areas, ‘man’icures and so on would depend on contemporary social norms, with which I am not intimately familiar, but I have been led to believe that in least in the cosmopolitan societies of New York and Los Angeles manscaping would be considered normal male behavior.


Posted on 08/24 at 03:50 AM • Permalink
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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Learning Torah at Night Part 2

We had previously discussed the specialness of nocturnal Torah study. I would like to qualify that with an interesting limitation on night-time Torah study.

The Medrash reports that when Moshe Rabeinu ascended Mt. Sinai, the way he was able to differentiate between night and day was that Hashem would teach him the Written Torah (the 24 books of Tanach) during the day, and at night-time He would teach him the Oral Torah (Mishna, Talmud etc.).

Based on this, the Mekubalim say that one should refrain from studying ‘Mikrah’ at night. The Mishna Berura explains that at most it is a matter of preference, not forbidden. The Yesod V’Shoresh HaAvodah and other more Kabalistic works write that there is a spiritual danger to studying Torah Shebechsav at night.

There are however many notable exceptions which would make this preference very easy to fulfill.

1) One may learn Tanach with Rashi or another commentary. An English translation would fit the bill as well.
2) Sofrim may write and verbalize the words they are writing. This is because they are writing in accordance to the Mesorah which is Torah Shbal Peh.
3) This concept is not applicable on Thursday Friday or Saturday night, on Yom Tov or on Chol Hamoed.
4) Tehillim said for a sick person or for shmirah may be said.
5) Some say that the whole prohibition is only until Chatzos (halachic midnight).

Based on the above, there is almost no practical application of this chumrah, and were it to be applicable, we could always rely on the Mishna Berura’s opinion that it is merely a scheduling preference but if that is when one has time to study Tanach they should definitely do so without hesitation.

You may also be interested in Rabbi Ari Enkin’s excellent article on what not to learn on Shabbos.

As Elul begins and we draw nearer to Rosh Hashanah some of you may be feeling the urge to learn how to blow Shofar properly. There is an excellent how-to book on the subject, written by Rabbi Avrohom Reit, an expert in the practical applications of Jewish Law. Check out his illustrated guide here.


Posted on 08/22 at 03:16 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Learning Torah at Night

At the end of the list of events that took place on Tu B’Av the Gemara (Taanis 31a) declares: Now that the nights are getting longer, people must learn more Torah at night. One who learns Torah at night will have increased longevity and one who does not learn Torah at night will have the tragic opposite results.

The Gemara in Avodah Zara (3b) elaborates on this concept: Resh Lakish says one who studies Torah at night is blessed with a “thread of kindness,” meaning that he will find favor in the eyes of others, during the day.

The Rambam (Talmud Torah 3: 13) says that although the Mitzvah is to learn Torah both day and night, the bulk of ones wisdom is acquired at night. He then proceeds t quote the Gemara in Avoda Zara above.

And to top it all off, the Gemara in Eruvin (65b) says that night was created solely for Torah study.

What is so special about nocturnal Torah study?

I once heard a beautiful thought to explain this. (I think it was repeated in the name of Rav Aharon Kotler but cannot place it right now). What one does during the day is what they are obligated to do. They work, take care of their families and communities. Night time is synonymous with rest and relaxation, and doing what we choose to do. It is when we naturally revert to our default positions.

If someone is so involved and enthralled with learning Torah to the point that their default position is to sit down and study Torah, then Hashem says I will give you a special bracha in that Torah learning. You will be able to acquire the most wisdom during that session, and you will have a special chein throughout the day.

This concept is brought l’halacha in the Shulchan Oruch (OC 238:1). The Mishna Berura explains that one should be careful that even in the summer months they learn Torah for at least a few minutes after nightfall.

For Part 2 of this article please click here.


Posted on 08/11 at 05:17 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