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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Erev Pesach Matzos

It is common, particularly amongst the Chassidim, to use Matzos that were baked on Erev Pesach after Midday.

The Tur (458) quotes earlier Gaonim as saying that one only fulfills his obligation of Matzoh with Matzoh that was baked on Erev Pesach after midday, the reason being that since Matzoh is juxtaposed to the Korban Pesach. The Pascal Lamb must be slaughtered after midday; therefore the matzos must also be baked after midday on Erev Pesach. [There is some discussion in the Poskim exactly when it is considered midday with regard to this].

The Yerushalmi concurs with the opinion of the Gaonim; however in Tosefta it states that one fulfills his obligation with older Matzoh as well. The Tur rules that one should be stringent like the opinion of the Yerushalmi. The Beis Yosef adds that perhaps all Matzos, and not just the ones that one is using to fulfill his obligation, should be baked on Erev Pesach afternoon.

When the first night of Pesach is on Saturday night, the Matzos obviously can’t be baked the preceding afternoon because it’s Shabbos. The Tur quotes differing opinions; either you bake them Friday afternoon, or you bake them on Saturday night before the Seder. (Talk about fresh!) This was the opinion of the Gra and the Chasam Sofer reportedly did so as did his Rebbe, the Hafla’h. More recently, I heard that this is the minhag in Bobov as well. The Shulchon Aruch and Taz agree with the first opinion. [See Taz for a litany of reasons].

The Mishna Berura, although clearly stating that all of the above is only a Minhag, and one fulfills his Halachic obligation with Matzoh that was baked even a month or two prior to Pesach, appears to be disturbed by the lack of widespread adoption of this Minhag. He quotes the Bigdei Yesha who explains that many opinions hold that just as one cannot nullify Chametz on Pesach, so too one cannot nullify Chametz on Erev Pesach. Therefore if one would inadvertently come across some Chametz during the Matzoh baking process (as is quite common) he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it and would transgress the prohibition of Baal Yiraah. The Mishna Berura concludes that one should try to be machmir that the Matzos that he uses for the Sedarim be baked on Erev Pesach.

The Aruch Hashulchan questions the validity of using the juxtaposition of Pesach to Matzoh to infer when the Matzoh should be baked. The hekesh, he writes, is only to know when to eat the Matzoh, not when to bake it. He concludes that in the time of the Gaonim and the Tur they would bake fresh Matzoh every day of Pesach. Indeed, the Tur noted the oddity of the Barcelona community who would prepare all their Matzoh for the entire Pesach before Yom Tov. Therefore, the Matzos that one will use for the Seder should be fresh as well. But nowadays that we all prepare our Matzoh before Pesach very few people are careful about this and most don’t know about it all.

The Vilna Gaon is reported in Maaseh Rav as not being particular about using Erev Pesach matzos either.

There are however many who are careful about this Minhag, reportedly Rabbi Lamm, the chancellor of Yeshiva University, among them.

The Chida (Avodas Hakodesh, Moreh Betzba 7:205) says that the minhag is to sing Hallel during the baking of the Erev Pesach Matzos, just reminiscent of the Hallel that was sung whilst preparing the Korban Pesach.

There is an additional health benefit to eating warm, fresh Matzoh at the Seder; the Ohr Zaruah says that the warm Matzos will deflect the ill effects of the Maror.


Posted on 03/18 at 09:16 AM • Permalink
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Crumb Hunting

For those with large libraries, the prospects of searching all ones books for some stray crumbs that may have gotten wedged within them is daunting.

The obligation to do a bedika or search for Chametz is only applicable to places where one is wont to use and bring Chametz. So books that were not used at the table and one didn’t use when eating definitely don’t have to be checked.

The Magen Avraham writes that crumbs don’t require specific nullification and only that which one may want to keep ( a “gluska yafeh”) requires bittul. According to this reasoning there should be no obligation to check ones seforim for crumbs either.

There are however other Poskim who dispute the assertion of the Magen Avraham and feel that one may end up eating the crumbs as well and therefore they do require bittul and bedikah. Additionally, there is a oft quoted Rosh that the Minhag of all Jews is to eradicate all Chametz from their possession, even that Chometz which one may not Halachically be required to remove from his custody. This is used often to explain customs like washing the ceilings and painting the outside of the house in advance of Pesach. It seems to be applicable here as well.

Furthermore, the Arizal says that if someone is careful about even the tiniest bit of Chametz they will be assured to be free of sin for the entire year. [I’m not sure how to understand things like this but maybe it’ll help someone else].

The best solution is for one to be careful throughout the year not to eat Chametz near their seforim and books and thus eliminate all doubt.


Posted on 03/18 at 09:01 AM • Permalink
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Matzoh Before Pesach

Many are accustomed to stop eating Matzoh before Pesach. Like everything, there are various customs as far as when to begin our Matzoh withdrawal:

a) Erev Pesach
b) From the beginning of Nissan
c) From right after Purim

I’d like to trace this Minhag from the top down.

The Yerushalmi (Pesachim Chap. 10) states: “Reb Levi said, he who eats Matzoh on Erev Pesach is like one who cohabits with his betrothed in his father in laws house. (commonly understood to mean that he is preemptive and jumping the gun).

The Rambam codifies this (Chametz U’Matzoh 6:12) and it is quoted by Tosfos (Pesachim 99b) as well. Tosfos qualifies the prohibition: only Matzoh which one can fulfill his obligation with at the Seder is proscribed, thus permitting Egg Matzoh or Matzoh made with juice instead of water.

There is some discussion among the Rishonim as to when on Erev Pesach one should stop eating Mazoh. The general consensus among the Poskim is that it begins at Amud Hashachar, (50-72 minutes before sunrise). The Magen Avraham, quoting the Ran, says one should begin the evening prior.

This prohibition is quoted by the Rema (OC 471:2). It’s omission by the Shulchan Aruch is noteworthy; I would be interested in hearing whether Sefardim have a different custom regarding this.

The Mishna Berura quotes a minhag to refrain from Matzoh from Rosh Chodesh Nissan, two weeks prior to Pesach. As we have noted, there is also a common Minhag to abstain from Matzoh from after Purim, or 30 days before Pesach. Rav Moshe Feinstein (OC 1:155) explains these customs:

He deduces from the Yerushalmi quoted above that the reason Chazal don’t want us to eat Matzoh before Pesach is because they want our initial Matzoh ingestion to be as a Mitzvah. At what point would eating Matzoh interfere with Matzoh on Pesach being considered “initial”? Logically this would start from when we begin to prepare for Pesach.

There is a dispute in the Gemara (Pesachim 6a) as to when one should begin Pesach preparations; 30 days or two weeks. So although Chazal didn’t go so far as to prohibit Matzoh from those times, the various customs evolved to refrain from Matzoh from those times.
[For a more in depth discussion of this topic see Igros Moshe Ibid.).

This prohibition does not extend to children too young to comprehend the story of the Exodus.

Matzoh Meal products are included in this prohibition. If, however, they are boiled (such as kneidelach) then one can eat them on erev Pesach. To the best of my knowledge even those who have the extended minhagim cited above do not refrain from eating Matzoh Meal products other than on Erev Pesach proper.


Posted on 03/11 at 02:13 PM • Permalink
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Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Potpourri of Purim Practices and Personal Pet Peeves

There are several Purim halachos that I feel are underestimated in their significance that I’d like to quickly run through here. 

Taanis Esther

Taanis Esther, the day before Purim is a Rabbinic fast day. It is however considered by most to be the least stringent of all fast days and therefore even one who isn’t feeling well is usually permitted to break his fast. [Every situation is different and one should ask their Rav for a personal psak].

After the fast is over, one is still not allowed to eat according to the Magen Avrohom before hearing the Megilla. In fact if one examines the exemptions granted to this Halacha vis a vis the exemptions granted to fasting on Taanis Esther, it would seem that if one isn’t feeling well on the fast he is better off eating then then eating after the fast before the Megilla reading. In fact I have heard that Rav Rubin of Eretz Yisroel recommended eating on Taanis Esther in the above scenario.

However Rav Dovid Feinstein told me that it is permitted to eat before the Megilla as long as he doesn’t have a meal including bread.

Machtzis HaShekel

The universally accepted custom is to give three half dollar coins of the local currency in remembrance of the Machtzis HaShekel, the half Shekel that was given in the desert to the Mishkan. The Torah writes “Terumah” three times so we give three half dollars.

This is generally carried out on Taanis Esther. (even when Taanis Esther is not the day before Purim).

Generally the Shul provides three half dollar coins. The individual should lift up the coins 11 inches and then returns them to he plate. He should donate to charity the equivalent of the three half dollars.

There are various minhagim as to who should give the Machtzis HaShekel:

• Every male 20 and older
• Every male 13 and older
• Every man, woman, and child (including a pregnant woman for her unborn child)

The Machtizs HaShekel can be given by someone else on their behalf.

Once one began to give Machatzis HaShekel on behalf of his children he shouldn’t stop. If however he started this practice because he thought it was obligatory to give for small children, and later became aware that it wasn’t obligatory, rather it was just a minhag, he may cease giving on their behalf.

The Biur Halacha is unsure as to whether a poor person is obligated in Machatzis HaShekel, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled they are obligated.

Seudah at Night

It is proper to have a small festive meal on the night of Purim as well, although one would not fulfill their obligation for Seudas Purim with this.

Matanos Leavyonim

Many people like to give their Matanos Leavyonim money to unfortunate Israelis. While commendable, one is obligated to give Matanos Leavyonim on Purim day itself, and can run into problems with the time change, and especially for the poor of Jerusalem where Purim is on a different day altogether. Therefore one should also make sure to fulfill their obligation with local poor as well.

Mishloach Manos

One should send as Mishloach Manos two types of food. They can be the same berachah, indeed even two different cuts of meat or a bottle of red wine with a bottle of white wine is sufficient to be considered ‘two types’.

There is a halachic advantage to sending the Mishloach Manos with a messenger, although one is not obligated to do so.

Other Miscellaneous Laws

One should wear Shabbos clothing on Purim, even at night. The Kaf Hachaim (695:7) stresses that one should be especially careful to wear Shabbos Clothes for the Megilla reading.

One may fulfill their obligation to become intoxicated with any alcoholic beverage, although there is a minority opinion that one must use wine.

I was asked after writing the Tzedakah blog, that if one is obligated to give every poor person who approaches him for tzedaka, then what is the addition of the famous “Kol haposhet yad nosnim lo” [all who approach one must give] halachah of Purim. Indeed the Bach (OC 694) asks this question and offers two answers:

1) One may not check to see if the poor person is a worthy recipient on Purim
2) One should give non Jewish poor as well

If one is in the unusual situation of not being able to hear the Megilla he should say Hallel. The reasoning behind this is that one of the reasons the Gemara (Megilla 14a) gives for not saying Hallel on Purim is that reading the Megilla is a form of saying Hallel. Ergo, if one does not hear the Megilla he should say Hallel. (probably without a beracha).


Posted on 03/05 at 09:46 AM • Permalink
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Parshas Zachor and Women

It is common practice in many communities worldwide to have a second reading of Parshas Zachor in the afternoon for women who weren’t able to make it to shul for various reasons. I’d like to take a closer look at the background of Parshas Zachor and this practice in particular.


There is a Biblical commandment to remember (mentally and verbally) what Amalek did to Klal Yisrael upon leaving Egypt. This is done by reading “Parshas Zachor”, the portion of the Torah from Parshas Ki Setzei (Devarim 25:17) where the Torah recounts briefly what Amalek did and admonishes us to remember and not forget this episode. The Torah finishes by commanding us to wipe out any vestige of Amalek.

What was the great wickedness of Amalek? When Israel left Egypt they were the first antagonists to wage war with the fledgling nation, and they broke the ice for all future conflicts. The well known Midrash compares the Nation of Israel to a hot tub that was too hot for everyone to approach. Finally one fellow jumped in and cooled it down and everyone else followed suit. (For more on this see here ).

The Chinuch (603) explains that no time frame is given for this Mitzvah, and can be fulfilled once a year or even every two or three years. The Minhag became to read Parshas Zachor the Shabbos before Purim because Haman was an Amaleki. (See Shu”t Chasam Sofer EH 119 for a in depth discussion of how often Parshas Zachor has to be read to be considered ”remembered”).

Sefer Torah

As we mentioned, we must verbally recall Amalek’s evil actions. How is this fulfilled on a Biblical level?

The Gemara (Megilla 18) states that the remembering must be done with a “Sefer”. Tosfos (Ibid 17b see also Tosfos in Berachos 13a) says that the only Biblically commanded reading of the Torah is Parshas Zachor.

The Emek Beracha and the Netziv both understand from the Rambam that the reading of Parshas Zachor from a Sefer Torah is Rabbinic in nature. The Minchas Chinuch also writes that a Sefer Torah and a minyan are only Rabbinically mandated.

So we seem to have a dispute among the Rishonim as to whether or not reading Parshas Zachor is a Biblical commandment or a Rabbinic ordinance to ensure that we would fulfill the Mitzvah of remembering Amalek.


The Rosh (Berachos 7:20) says that since it is Biblically commanded it therefore requires a quorum of ten men. (The Terumas Hadeshen quoted by the Magen Avraham writes the quorum is Biblically mandated, Shaar Hatzion 685:5 argues with this contention).

Alternative Readings

The Magen Avraham (685:1) writes that one fulfills his requirement with the reading of Purim morning which is taken from Parshas Beshalach and recounts the war with Amalek.

Both the Mishna Berura and the Aruch Hashulchan take issue with this because part of the Mitzvah to remember is also to wage war and take revenge against Amalek which is delineated in Parshas Zachor specifically. [One would however fulfill their obligation with the reading of Parshas Ki Seitzei which includes Parshas Zachor].

Are Women Obligated?

The Chinuch (Ibid) writes that the Mitzvah to remember Amalek is only applicable to men because they are the ones who are commanded to fight Amalek. The Minchas Chinuch questions this on several counts and says that women are biblically commanded to remember Amalek.

The Binyan Tzion (2:8) also questions the Chinuch and relates that Rav Nosson Adler was very stringent in ensuring that everyone in his household, both men and women, would go to Shul and hear Parshas Zachor. (See also Avnei Nezer 509).
Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Moadim Uzmanim 2:168) and others note that from the omission of the Poskim it would seem that Parshas Zachor is no different than any other Krias HaTorah in as much as women are not obligated. The Chazon Ish and the Toras Chesed both held that women are not obligated in Parshas Zachor with the tzibur, and could fulfill their obligation by reading and recounting the story on their own.

So it would seem the following points are clear:

• The requirement of a Sefer Torah is disputable
• There may be a requirement to have a Minyan
• It would seem that most Poskim would not obligate women in hearing Parshas Zachor

Based on the above, Rav Moshe Feinstein was very opposed to making a special reading of Parshas Zachor for women only. He felt that whereas the Halacha requires one to have a compelling reason to remove the Sefer Torah from the Aron Kodesh, and unnecessarily removing the Sefer Torah from the Ark and read from it would constitute a bizayon or a “shaming” of the Torah. In our scenario, he felt there is no compelling reason since one can fulfill their obligation of remembering Amalek through reading Parshas Zachor from a Chumash according to most authorities. (Moadei Yeshurun).


Posted on 03/05 at 09:30 AM • Permalink
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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Priorities in Tzedakah

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstien of Bnei Brak tells the story of a wealthy man who was blessed with a child after many childless years who approached him with the following request: He wanted to donate a very large sum to a hospital and was unsure whether to donate it to the ophthalmology wing or to the fertility wing. Rav Zilberstien referred him to his brother in law Rav Chaim Kanievsky who replied that he should contribute his gift to the ophthalmology department.

He based this on the Mishnah that enumerates the four people who are considered as dead.  They are the poor man, the leper, the blind man, and the childless. He notes that the order of the Mishnah is purposeful, and these unfortunates are listed in order of their severity. So the blind have priority over the childless.

Halacha dictates priorities in whom one gives their Tzedakah money. The Rema enumerates the order of priorities:
a) parents
b) children
c) other relatives (including a divorced wife)
d) neighbors
e) townsmen
f) Yerushalayim
g) Eretz Yisroel

This assumes that all of the above are truly poor and worthy.

Additionally, if one is faced with the choice of providing food or providing clothes he should first provide food.

However the Aruch Hashulchan explains that one cannot provide for his “priority” exclusively. Rather he should give the bulk of his money based on the above priorities, and the rest should be given to other poor people.

One more point – there is a common misnomer that the rule that you have to give at least a small amount to everyone who asks is only for Purim. In actuality this is always true. When a truly poor person comes to your door or stops you on the street and asks for a donation it is forbidden to turn him down, rather you must give at least a pittance to them so as not to embarrass them. The only exception to this may be when there is an incessant stream of people coming.

Happy Giving!!


Posted on 02/15 at 12:15 PM • Permalink
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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Tu B’Shvat and Shecheyanu on new fruits

Some years ago, I was invited to a Tu B’Shvat Seder/Friday Night Seudah / Potluck dinner in the Old City of Jerusalem. Although my recollections of that evening are somewhat fuzzy, I do recall that the company was great, there were many excellent wines (hence the fuzziness) and an astonishing variety of mouth watering fruits.

Although the Tu B’Shvat Seder has recently gained popularity, especially among the Jewish vegetarian groups, it apparently was first conceived by the Arizal. The Chassidic Rebbes conduct a “Peiros Tish” or fruit meal on Tu B’Shvat, at which they distribute various fruits and nuts to their Chassidim.

This minhag is also cited by the Magen Avraham who writes: “The minhag of the Ashkenazim is to partake in fruits on this day.”

There is also a custom to eat the Esrog from Sukkos on Tu B’Shvat. This of course would require some advance pickling or preservation. The Bnai Yissocher writes that Tu B’Shvat is a fortuitous time to daven for a Beautiful Esrog the coming year.

Many try to find a Shecheyanu fruit for Tu B’Shvat. The origin of this custom is unknown, but some suggest that it may be based on a fascinating passage in the Jerusalem Talmud. At the very end of Kidushin, the Yerushalmi quotes

“Rebbi Chizkiya R’ Cohen in the name of Rav: One will have to answer to the Heavely Tribunal for every item he saw and did not partake of. Reb Elazer was very careful about this, and would save his pennies in order to have all the fruits that are available once a year”

The meforshim explain that he did so in order to have the opportunity to say Shecheyanu and thank Hashem for all that He created to make our lives more enjoyable.

From here we see that one should make a concerted effort to make Shecheyanu on new fruits, perhaps the custom became to do so on Tu B’shvat – the New Year for the trees.

Nowadays, when many fruits are available year round, the opportunities to say Shecheyanu become rarer. One can however make a Shecheyanu on any fruit that is seasonal in his usual supermarket, even if it could be procured in a specialty store elsewhere.

The Piskei Teshuvos writes that when one makes Shecheyanu on fruit it is a celebration of the renewal of Hashem’s creation, that Hashem has designed an astounding eco-system of sustenance which is all the more astounding in its seasonality.

Have a happy and inspiring Tu B’Shvat.


Posted on 02/08 at 10:17 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Making a Blessing When Seeing Obama

While watching parts of the Inauguration last week, I was struck by the pomp and ceremony that accompanied the swearing in of a President. The bands, the 21 gun salute, and the various presentations that preceded the ceremony, the vast multitudes of people who stood in the bitter cold for hours on end just to catch a glimpse of the new President of the United States.

This gave me a new appreciation for the dictum of our Sages to recite a special blessing upon seeing a king.

Chazal tell us that we should make a special beracha upon seeing a non Jewish king: “Blessed are You… who gave of his honor to flesh and blood.” In fact, the Gemara tells us that it is a mitzvah to go see a king, even an evil king. The reason given is that then if one merits seeing Moshiach he will appreciate how much greater the respect shown to Moshiach is in comparison.
One can even stop studying Torah in order to see the king if he has never seen the procession before.

I would like to discuss whether this applies to the President, or any other world leaders today.

When Shmuel Agnon received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966, he recited the blessing upon seeing King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden.

When Dr. Aumann received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2006 Rav Aaron Lichtenstien told him not to recite a blessing upon seeing King Carl XVI Gustaf (Gustav VI’s successor).

What changed? Let’s take a closer look.


The Sefer HaEshkol writes that anyone who has the authority of a king, and has the ability to sentence people to death unchallenged is considered a king as so far as making a blessing upon seeing him. (All this applies equally to queens but for the sake of clarity I am sticking to the male version).

The Radvaz discusses whether the Egyptian Pasha meets the above criteria. The Pasha was an appointee of the Turkish Sultan, he however did have broad reaching powers. He concludes one should say the blessing but omit Hashem’s name when saying it, because the Pasha was often overruled by Royal Edict of the Sultan.
So it would seem the king has to be a real monarch with far reaching powers.

However, Rav Ovadya Yosef and many others write that even an elected official, whose term expires and he answers to the people, would still be eligible for the blessing as long as he has the ability to pardon or refuse to pardon someone on death row. So it would seem that a President would qualify.

The Shevet HaLevi writes that as long as he is the highest ranking authority, it doesn’t really matter what powers he has. According to him we wouldn’t even need the ability to pardon.

There are however two other conditions.


The king has to be traveling with his whole entourage. Indeed, the law is that one doesn’t have to actually sight the king, as long as they see his motorcade and his car (or chariot or boat) they can make the beracha. Presidential Inaugurations definitely qualify here too.

Dress Code

Here’s where we may run into trouble. The king has to be dressed like a king, not like one of the common folk. President Obama was wearing a dark suit, black topcoat and red tie at the inauguration. He would’ve been incognito in any law firm in the United States.

When President Nixon visited Israel, Rav Ovadya Yosef instructed people to make the blessing without Hashem’s name because he wasn’t wearing royal clothing.

So to get back to our Nobel Prize Laureates, What changed?

‘Raffy’ on Avodah explains that

“In 1974, after Agnon was there but before Aumann, the Swedish Parliament passed a new constitution, removing ALL power from the Swedish Monarch, EVEN in theory. All powers that were formerly the King’s to exercise, even in theory, were given to either the Speaker of the Parliament or the Government.”

So the King lost his Authority, and Dr. Aumann his beracha.

Indeed ‘Raffy’ goes on to say that the Queen of England perhaps is different because she:

“still has all the power an English Monarch had in the days of Henry VIII. No laws have taken those powers away.It is only in practice that British Monarchs have decided to exercise these formidable powers only with the advice of the Ministers who have the support of the elected House of Commons”

This is indeed shockingly true.

As an aside, if the monarch in question has any religious insignia on their clothing or vehicle then you may not be able to make the blessing.

And the bottom line on the President? It would seem one should make the blessing, but omit Hashem’s name because he isn’t wearing royal robes.

Posted on 01/27 at 10:51 AM • Permalink
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Monday, January 12, 2009

Friday Night Blessings

Growing up Haber, it was the regular thing. Every Friday night after Kiddush, we would all line up in front of our parents for a bracha, a blessing that we should be like Ephraim and Menashe for the boys, or like the Matriarchs for the girls, followed by the standard Priestly Blessing. I thought this was replicated in all Jewish households all over the world. As we got married, we all continued the tradition of our parents, blessing our children on Friday night.

Last week while reading Rabbi Oizer Alport’s excellent Parsha Potpourri, I came across an interesting dispute between Rav Yaakov Emden and the Vilna Gaon. In his Siddur, Rav Yaakov Emden writes that the Minhag Yisrael is to bless the children Friday night, gives several Kabalistic reasons for it, and then adds that both hands should be placed on the child’s head, “unlike those who are mentally deficient and think that only on hand should be put on the child’s head.” His own father, he adds, the Chacham Tzvi, used both hands when blessing him.

In the Siddur of the Vilna Gaon the custom to bless one’s children is also cited but he says that only Kohanim can use two hands, everyone else has to use one to differentiate. The stance of the Vilna Gaon is also cited in the Torah Temimah Chumash (Bamidbar 6:23). (see also Biur Halacha OC 128 and Piskei Teshuvos).

I was spurned by this to conduct an informal, unscientific survey, as to what people do. The choices were:
a) One hand
b) Two hands
You can imagine my surprise when about 85% of the respondents came back with:
c) None of the above

People don’t give their kids bracha’s!!

My respondents ran the gamut of European geographical backgrounds, from (non-practicing) Yekke’s to Hungaian, Romanian, Lithuanian and Polish. There were unfortunately no Sephardim available.

It seems obvious that Rav Yaakov Emden and the Vilna Gaon practiced this Minhag, in addition the Talmidim of the Arizal speak about it. In fact, the Arizal would kiss his mother’s hand upon arriving home Friday night, in order to “prepare” it for the blessing. This is the origin of the Sephardic Minhag to kiss the hand of one about to give a blessing. There is also a custom for the blessee to kiss the blesser’s hand after receiving the blessing (Otzar Hayedios).

Chaya Fisherman quotes sources in Russia, the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities of Amsterdam and the Ethiopian communities that say that parents blessed their children every Shabbos. The Chasam Sofer (OC 23) entertains the notion that one should give the brachos every day!
The reason given are many, ranging from the Kabalistic to the educational to the Siddur Noam Shabbos who write that parents may inadvertently curse their children out of anger during the week, and the blessings reverse that.

It’s interesting to note that when discussing this Minhag, both Rav Emden and the Gra say that it applies to both Rabbis and parents. As far as I know there is no community where the Rabbi systematically blesses all the children. The extremely notable exception to this is the K’hal Adath Jeshurun community where the kids all line up to get a blessing from the Rav Friday nights. Indeed Dr. Elliot Bondi (in the biography section of the Torah Dimensions project from the OU) reports that Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer ZT”L would hold this custom very dear and insisted on giving every child a bracha even at the advanced age of 98!

So, I’m still befuddled as to where this Minhag has gone. If anyone has any further information please hit the comments.


Posted on 01/12 at 12:14 AM • Permalink
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Monday, January 05, 2009

Fast Days

There are six obligatory fast days. One is biblically mandated, four were established by the later prophets (Chaggai, Zechariah and Malachi), and one is merely a widely accepted custom.

The biblically mandated one is Yom Kippur. The Torah tells us: (Vayikra 16:29)

וְהָיְתָה לָכֶם, לְחֻקַּת עוֹלָם:  בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ תְּעַנּוּ אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם, וְכָל-מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ--הָאֶזְרָח, וְהַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכְכֶם.

“On the 10th day of the 7th month you shall afflict your souls…”

Then we have the four fast days from the prophets. They are: Tzom Gedalyah, Asarah B’Teves, Shiva Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. These are most famously alluded to in Zechariah (Chap. 8:19):

כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, צוֹם הָרְבִיעִי וְצוֹם הַחֲמִישִׁי וְצוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְצוֹם הָעֲשִׂירִי יִהְיֶה לְבֵית-יְהוּדָה לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָה, וּלְמֹעֲדִים, טוֹבִים; וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם, אֱהָבוּ

In this verse, Zechariah tells us that the “fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), the fast of the fifth month (Av) the seventh month (Tzom Gedalyah) and the tenth month (Asarah B’Teves)” will become days of joyousness and Moadim Tovim.

Taanis Esther, the Fast of Esther, was accepted by all of Israel and is therefore binding as law.

On Yom Kippur we don’t just fast, we have several “afflictions”. Eating and drinking, washing and anointing (putting on lotions or creams etc.), wearing leather shoes, and having marital relations are all prohibited. Additionally, Yom Kippur starts from the night prior, making it a 25 hour fast. All these halachos were adapted to Tisha B’Av as well.

The other fasts start from dawn (72 minutes before sunrise) and finish at nightfall (50 minutes after sunset) of that day. Only eating and drinking is prohibited. If however one went to sleep without verbalizing his intention to wake up before dawn to eat, and then happened to wake up early and wants to grab a bite before the fast begins, he has a problem, because he accepted the fast upon himself when he went to sleep. If he regularly takes a drink upon awakening, and wakes up before dawn, he may take a drink, even if he failed to verbalize his intentions before he went to sleep, but he may not eat. If he’s unusually thirsty, then he may take a drink even if he does not regularly do so, but eating will still be forbidden. (MB 564).

Even if one does verbalize his intention to eat upon awakening, he must begin eating a half hour prior to dawn. 

We find that the Ramban, as quoted by the Vilna Gaon, explains that all the fast days originally should have had the severity of Tisha B’Av, but the people weren’t able to withstand them, so when the decrees against the Jewish People relaxed, the fast days were relaxed as well. However when it is a time of oppression for the Jewish People they would come back full force, and all the fast days would have the stringencies of Tisha B’Av. The Mishna Berurah quotes some Poskim that because we don’t know what is considered a time of oppression a Ba’al Nefesh should accept upon himself the stringencies of Tisha B’Av for all the other fasts as well, including starting at night, (aside for not wearing shoes because it will cause people to laugh at him).

The Aruch Hashulchan and others recommend not bathing or showering in hot water on a fast day. Additionally, the Biur Halacha (OC 551:2) suggests that perhaps the 17th of Tammuz and the 10th of Teves should have the severity of the Nine Days between Rosh Chodesh Av and Tisha B’Av, in addition to not eating.

The widely accepted custom is to refrain only from eating and drinking and to permit everything else (except for on Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur).

It behooves us to consider that the primary purpose of the Rabbinical fast days is to inspire us to recall the tragic events that had occurred in our nations history on those days, and to rectify our own actions to ensure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of our ancestors. Then we will indeed merit the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah, that all the days of mourning will be transformed to days of rejoicing.

Posted on 01/05 at 07:49 AM • Permalink
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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Obligation to Review the Weekly Parsha


The Gemara1 relates: Rav Huna the son of Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rebbe Yonah who said in the name of Rebbe Ami: One should always finish the Parsha with the congregation, reading the text (Mikra) twice and the Targum once, and even “Atros and “Divon”. And one who finishes the Parsha with the congregation, his days and years will be extended. 

Atros and Divon are names of cities2 . Rashi explains their significance is that they have no Targum. Hence the Gemara is telling us that even words which have no Targum must be recited three times.  

The Rosh3 asks: if the only significance is that they have no Targum, why couldn’t we just say Reuvain and Shimon? Answers the Rosh, Atros and Divon have a Targum Yerushalmi and in some editions have Targum as well, so since there is an aspect of translation you need to have the Targum. However Reuvain and Shimon and other name that have no Targum at all would not have to be read three times. This is also the opinion of Rabbeinu Yonah. However, the Rosh concludes, the custom is like Rashi and therefore
we have to read everything three times.

What – Rashi vs. Targum 

The Rosh and Tosfos quote an opinion that any translation works, it doesn’t have to be Targum. They argue however and say that the Targum is more than a translation; it also explains things that would not be understood from the Torah itself. However if one learns Rashi then he would not need to say the Targum.  The Beis Yosef 4quotes the Smag in the name of the Gaonim as saying that even so one should say the Targum because it was given on Sinai5 . The Beis Yosef concludes that a
G-d fearing person should say both the Targum and Rashi and in the Shulchan Aruch6 he says that one fulfills his obligation with either one but a G-d fearing person should say both.7

[The Biur Halacha8 takes issue with the Beis Yosef’s understanding of the Smag, and says that the Smag was never contrasting Rashi to Targum rather he was contrasting other translations to Targum like the Rosh and Tosfos. He concludes however9, that one should read both like the Psak of the Beis Yosef, because although Rashi explains more, there are many Pesukim that don’t have Rashi on them.] 

One who has trouble understanding Rashi can read a comparable sefer in a language he understands that incorporates Rashi and Chazal’s explanation of the Possuk.10 

How to Read 

The Mikrah has to be said. Therefore one cannot say the Mikrah once and the Targum and rely on hearing the second Mikrah (without verbally reading along) from the Ba’al Koreh. If one has done this it is a dispute amongst the Achronim if he has fulfilled his obligation.11 If, however, he verbally reads along with the Ba’al Koreh he has fulfilled his obligation.12 (This however is neither the ideal way nor time to do Shnayim Mikrah as will become clear in the following paragraphs.) 

There are several opinions amongst the Achronim as to what is the best way to do Shnayim Mikrah V’echad Targum:

  1. Each Possuk twice and then the Targum13
  2. Each “Parsha” (paragraph) twice and then the Targum14
  3. Possuk, Targum and then the Possuk again in order to finish off with Torah15

The Mishna Berura16brings the first two opinions and says that either way is good. 

One who is able to should read from a Sefer Torah.17

If one doesn’t have the Targum, he should read the Mikrah twice and when he gets the Targum read it then.18

It should be read in order.19

It is forbidden to interrupt in the middle of a “Parsha”20

It is proper and praiseworthy not to interrupt the reading at all.21

An interruption for this purpose is idle speech, One is permitted to make a beracha.22 



Usually, one may begin to read from the time that one is allowed to daven Mincha on the preceding Shabbos (when the following week’s Torah portion is begun).23

The ideal methods are to either: 

a) Do the entire Shnayim Mikrah V’echad Targum on Friday.24 This was the custom of the Arizal.

One should cut their nails before beginning.25

[There are various opinions as to when on Friday.  Some say before midday and some say after. Some say that those who are accustomed to go to the Mikvah should go beforehand, and some say it is better to go afterward.]26 

b) Do it incrementally throughout the week.27 The practice of the Vilna Gaon was to read a portion of the Sedra every morning after Shachris and finish on Friday morning.

If one has not completed the Parsha on Friday, it should be completed by the Shabbos morning Seuda28 (and preferably before davening Shabbos morning)29. The meal should not be delayed past Chatzos30 nor should guests be kept waiting31 in order to finish the Parsha.

If one didn’t finish before the meal he should finish by Mincha, for that is when the next week’s portion is begun. If he didn’t finish by Mincha he has until Wednesday, and if he didn’t finish by Wednesday his last chance is Simchas Torah. 32 Once the next week has begun, he should do that weeks portion and then go back to the ones that he missed. Ideally however it should be finished by Shabbos as we explained earlier. 

The students of the Arizal write that Targum should not be read at night.33 

The Steipler Gaon would read the last Possuk after Krias HaTorah, before the Seuda. This was his understanding of “with the congregation”.34 


There is no obligation to read the Haftorah, however it is customary to do so, in case one is asked to lain the Haftorah.35 



A teacher of children who teaches the Parsha and explains (not just translates) it, does not have to read it again.36 

Yom Tov 

The Yom Tov readings do not require Shnayim Mikrah, for they are read over the course of the year. (There is a Chasidic Minhag to read the “Four Parshios” Shnayim Mikrah V’echad Targum).

However, Vezos Habracha, the final Parsha in the Torah, which is read on Simchas Torah, must be read. The proper time for this is on Hoshana Raba or Shmini Atzeres (outside of Israel).37 If it is read before Hoshana Raba one has not fulfilled his obligation.38 


For Further Study 

Igros Moshe Vol. 8:37

[1] TB Berachos 8a

[2] Bamidbar 32:34

[3] Berachos Chapter 1:8

[4] OC 285

[5] Megilla 3a

[6] 285:2

[7] It is said in the name of the Baal Shem Tov that this can be understood that “learning Rashi causes one to become a G-d fearing person

[8] 285

[9] Biur Halacha Ibid, MB 285:6

[10] MB 285:5

[11] MB 285:2

With regard to being Yotzeh with someone else reading SMV"T and having intent to be Motzi, the Aruch Hashulchan says it’s forbidden, and the Ridvaz quoted by the Chida and Shaarei Teshuvah are of the opinion that it works, much the same as Megilla or any Bracha. However, one cannot fulfill his obligation by listening to a recoding of SMV"T, for there is no intent to be Motzi. (RDF)

[12] OC285:5 and MB there

[13] Magen Avraham and Lechem Chamudos

[14] GR”A

[15] Mishnas Chasidim (brought by Baer Haitiv), Shulchan Aruch HaRav

[16] MB 285:2

[17] MB 285:2

[18] MB 285:6

[19] MB 285:6

[20] Shaar Hatzion 285:11 writes very harsh things about one who does so

[21] MB 285:6

[22] Kaf Hachaim 285:15

[23] MB 285:7. The exception to this is when Yom Tov comes out on Shabbos; according to some one may only begin from Sunday. (Piskei Teshuvah footnote #18) RDF holds that even so it is permitted to begin from Mincha time

[24] MB 285:8

[25] Beer Haitiv 285:1

[26] See Piskei Teshuvah

[27] MB Ibid in the name of the Mateh Yehuda and others

[28] OC 285:4. One may make Kiddush and have a snack before finishing. /font>

[29] MB 285:9

[30] MB 285:9

[31] Shar Hatzion 285:14

[32] OC 285:4

[33] Shaarei Teshuvah 285:1

[34] Orchos Rabeinu

[35] Rema 285:7 and MB ad loc.

[36] OC 285:6

[37] Shaarei Teshuvah 285:4

[38] Shu"t Kaneh Bosem vol. 1:16, as quoted by the Piskei Teshuvah. And although Vezos Habracha has already been read on the Shabbos prior at Mincha, it will not help in this instance to be called “Im Hatzibur” (with the congregation). See footnote 23 earlier, it would seem that RDF would argue here as well.

Posted on 12/31 at 10:52 AM • Permalink
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Office Parties

It is permissible to attend the party if necessary as long as the following conditions are met. (The permissibility of the entertainment and similar issues, while worthy of discussion, will not be addressed in this post.)

If the event is held at a non kosher restaurant or an exclusively non kosher venue such as a country club then it is forbidden to attend at all because of Maaris Ayin.

If the venue has both kosher and non kosher caterers, as is common in many hotels, and the affair is catered by the non kosher caterer, then one is permitted to attend the affair, they may however not eat even if their food happens to be kosher.  This would apply to an event held at the office itself or a private home as well; one may attend, but not eat at all.

If the event is catered by the kosher caterer then of course they can enjoy fully.

UPDATE 12/23

for further study you may want to read this excellent article

Posted on 12/22 at 06:01 AM • Permalink
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Right Way to Light the Menorah

When it comes to lighting the Menorah, there are several common scenarios that can cause confusion. I’d like to discuss some of these situations.

Where to Light When Attending a Chanukah Party

Often, one attends a Chanukah party at which the host lights the Menorah. The correct thing for the individual guests at the party to do would be to light the Menorah at home, preferably at the correct time (50 minutes after sunset in the US) and then go to the party. If they have to leave earlier, then they should light at home with a bracha when they get back, as long as it isn’t too late – there are still people outside.  If it will be too late then they should light the Menorah right before they leave the house, and make sure they will last until 80 minutes after sunset.

Someone Who Lives In an Apartment Building

A little background is necessary. Ideally the Menorah should be placed outside on the street for maximum Pirsuma Nisa (publication of the miracle). This is still done in Israel, but outside of Israel the minhag is to place the Menorah indoors. The Rema explains that the proper place indoors is by the door opposite the Mezuzah so that one is surrounded by Mitzvos. However, the Magen Avrohom and others say that if one has a window that faces a public thoroughfare one should place the Menorah in the window.

The upper height limit for placement of the Menorah outside or in the window is usually 20 amos or 35 ½ feet high. This is because that is the highest the eye naturally sees. Therefore if the window of the apartment is less than 35½ feet from ground level and opens to the street, he should place his Menorah in the window.  If however he lives on a higher floor, then it gets a little complicated. Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Shevet Halevi say that if there is another building ‘across the way’ that can see your window then you should light in the window because you have Pirsuma Nisa for them. Rav Moshe Shternbuch and Rav Elyashiv argue and say that the concept of Pirsuma Nisa is only applicable for the general populace in the street, not for the guy across the street.
So, according to the latter opinion, or in a case where there is no mile high neighbors who would be able to see into your window, then we go back to the Rema and should light by the door. There is however a catch – the Magen Avraham explains that the Rema isn’t telling us that the minhag is to light by the door, he’s telling us the minhag should be to light by the door. Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that the idea being surrounded by mitzvos at the door alone is not a strong reasoning. When one was lighting by the door anyway because he was lighting outside, then we say that he should place the Menorah opposite the Mezuzah. If however he wasn’t lighting outside then the Minhag never was to light by an interior door to be surrounded by Mitzvos. The Rema is telling us that those who are careful in Mitzvos should do so, but it’s not the Minhag.
The upshot is, if you have a window that opens to the street and is lower than 35 ½ feet, or if you have a neighboring building with apartments at your level, you should put your Menorah in the window. If you are otherwise situated, perhaps you should light by the door according to the Rema, but the prevalent Minhag is to lght in the window anyway.

Posted on 12/18 at 11:44 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