Hefsek Taharah and Bedikot – Important Mekori Information for Women

[Note: The below is for information purposes only, as is everything on this site. The decision to act upon any of it or not is the personal decision of the reader and any details regarding the observance of any halakhah – especially those laws which are intricate, complicated, and/or severe – should be discussed with a competent rav.]

[Further Note: The information and halakhot that are discussed below are of a sensitive nature and the post includes some graphic language related to both male and female anatomy, menstruation, and sexuality. It is perhaps not appropriate reading for children or youths.]

The following is a public service for the sake of the health of religious Jewish women and the increase of sexual health, enjoyment, and a general improvement of shalom bayit.

I would advise anyone who has not done so already to read my post about when to properly begin counting the seven clean days (shivah nekiyim – שבעה נקיים). That post, when combined with this one, fundamentally transforms taharat ha-mishpahah from a burden into something normal, reasonable, and manageable.

Painful Bedikot and Taharat HaMishpahah

Perhaps the most painful, irritating, invasive, and frustrating component of practical taharat ha-mishpahah is the frequent internal vaginal inspections with a cloth. The standard method that is prescribed by rabbis, kallah teachers, and yoatzot comes from the instructions for performing bedikot as found in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 196:6), which states as follows:

TEXT

כָּל בְּדִיקוֹת אֵלּוּ בֵּין בְּדִיקַת הֶפְסֵק טָהֳרָה בֵּין בְּדִיקַת כָּל הַשִּׁבְעָה צְרִיכוֹת לִהְיוֹת בְּבֶגֶד פִּשְׁתָּן לָבָן יָשָׁן אוֹ בְּצֶמֶר גֶּפֶן אוֹ בְּצֶמֶר לָבָן נָקִי וְרַךְ וְתַכְנִיסֶנּוּ בְּאוֹתוֹ מָקוֹם בָּעֹמֶק לַחוֹרִים וְלַסְדָקִים עַד מָקוֹם שֶׁהַשַּׁמָּשׁ דָּשׁ וְתִרְאֶה אִם יֵשׁ בּוֹ שׁוּם מַרְאֵה אַדְמוּמִית וְלֹא שֶׁתַּכְנִיסֵהוּ מְעַט לְקַנֵּחַ עַצְמָהּ

TRANSLATION

“All of these various bedikot, whether it is a bedikah for the purpose of a hefsek taharah or whether it is a bedikah for one of the seven clean days, it needs to be done with an old white linen cloth, or cotton, or clean white wool that is soft. This cloth is inserted deeply into ‘that place’ [i.e. the vagina] into all the folds and crevices until the place where the ‘member threshes’ [i.e. the opening of the cervix; where ejaculate enters], and she then looks to see if there is any reddish appearance. She does not simply insert it slightly, merely wiping herself.”

These inspections are not only difficult to do, but often lead to irritation of the vaginal canal and, in many cases, further bleeding. There have also been instances of infections or injury resulting from them, especially if the woman is the least bit obsessive and repeats them often. As a result of the discomfort, some women secretly neglect to do them, while others simply refuse to participate in taharat ha-mishpahah at all.

As will be seen below, the such intrusive “bedikot” need never be done, but only a simple wiping (of the type mentioned and rejected by the Shulhan Arukh itself).

Mokh” Trial

In the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 196:1), Rav Yosef Karo prescribes a practice known as a mokh dahuk (מוך דחוק) wherein a woman, after having performed the bedikah just prior to sunset for a hefsek taharah, packs her vagina with clean wadded cloth for the duration of bein ha-shemashot until sundown. After tzeit ha-kokhavim (i.e. halakhic nightfall) the wadding is removed and inspected for spots of possible blood.

This practice was first recommended by the Rashba (Rav Shelomoh ben Aderet, 1235-1310) and was later adopted by other scholars in practice. Although a mokh is mentioned in the Talmud as form of birth control, it is never mentioned or prescribed by either Hazal or other Rishonim in connection with taharat ha-mishpahah. As such, it is not required at all by halakhah.

Many women find the use of a mokh to be not only uncomfortable, but also self-defeating since on the basis of it many women are told to delay an extra day or two in beginning their count of seven clean days. This very trying and unnecessary contrivance should be abandoned by Jewish women in favor of the relatively simple prescriptions of the Talmud, as codified -in this case – by the Rambam.

The Latest Mekori Manual on Taharat HaMishpahah

Translation of selections from Sefer Taharat Mosheh by Rav Tzefanyah Arusi, printed Makhon Mishnat HaRambam (Makhon Moshe”hמכון מש”ה), pp. 103-104:

“Chapter 13: Hefsek Taharah (הפסק טהרה) and Counting Seven Clean Days (ספירת שבעה נקיים)

The Bedikah for a Hefsek Taharah

In the era of the sages of the Talmud, Jewish women were strict upon themselves and every amount of blood which they saw – which was accompanied by a hargashah [1] – even if it was only a drop the size of a mustard seed, and then counted seven clean days from the time that the blood stopped and then they immersed (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Isurei Bi’ah 11:4).

The widespread practice today (in accordance with the instruction of the aharonim [2]) is that just prior to the time of shekiah (which in their view refers to the concealment of the sun [היסתרות החמה] which is advertised in the calendars [3]), which is before she begins counting seven clean days, she is mafsikah taharah [i.e. she interrupts her unclean days by producing a ‘proof’ that her bleeding has stopped], that is she checks ‘that place’ [4] with a clean white cloth. Preferably (לכתחילה) she performs a bedikah that inspects the folds and crevices [i.e. of the inner walls of the vagina] reaching to the place which the ‘member threshes’ [i.e. where the penis is inserted and ejaculates during intercourse, which is considered the entire depth of the vagina until the opening of the cervix], as mentioned in the Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 196:6. However, after the fact (בדיעבד), just the depth to which her hand reaches is sufficient, as per the Rema there. If the cloth comes out clean, it is then recommended that she place a mokh [5] within ‘that place’ for the duration of time between bein ha-shemashot and tzeit ha-kokhavim [6], and if the mokh then comes out clean she may begin to count seven clean days from that night (as regards the color of the cloth after the bedikah, see chapter 2 above that deals with the laws of ketemim).

However, our teacher the Rambam [7] did not mention these practices and recorded only the law of the Talmud [8] alone, which is: On the day that the blood stops, she checks herself by only wiping (בקינוח בלבד) ‘that place,’ and if it emerges clean then she begins to count the seven clean days. [9] Such was the practice of the Jewish women of Yemen once upon a time, but it seems that currently they conduct themselves according to the more intensive practice. [10]

The women of the Sefardic tradition, in accordance with the Shulhan Arukh, inspect themselves until the point that the ‘member threshes,’ and the women of the Ashkenazic tradition, in accordance with view of the Rema, inspect themselves only to the point that their fingers naturally reach.”


Notes:

[1] A hargashah refers to a bodily feeling experienced by a woman that usually accompanies uterine bleeding, including – and most usually – menstruation.

[2] The aharonim refers to rabbinic scholars who wrote after the publication of the Shulhan Arukh (ca. 1500 CE to the present).

[3] The “calendars” being referred to here are the commonly published tables of zemanim (halakhic times) throughout the year. The “shekiah” designated in the majority of such calendars refers to the setting of the sun behind the visible horizon.

[4] The phrase “that place” (אותו מקום) is lashon naki for the vagina as it is viewed from without. Lashon naki refers to “erudite language,” i.e. delicate pseudonyms used by scholars when discussing subjects related to sex and sexuality in an effort to imbue the discussion with proper honor and to avoid overly graphic depictions.

[5] As explained above, a mokh refers to a mokh dahuk (מוך דחוק), which is mentioned in the Talmud only in connection to its use as a form of birth control (akin to idea behind the modern contraceptive sponge), but is never mentioned with regard to the laws of family purity. It’s use in this way is a contrivance and a humrah instituted first by the Rashba in his Taharat HaBayit, and later prescribed in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 196:1).

[6] The terms bein ha-shemashot and tzeit ha-kokhavim refer, in general, to a period of time that takes place at some point after the setting of the sun behind the visible horizon and the appearance of three “medium-sized” stars in the night sky, respectively. Their exact timing is a subject of lengthy and ongoing halakhic debate, but the position espoused by the Rambam, and thus adopted by Rav Tzefanyah Arusi, will be explained below.

[7] The phrase רבנו הרמב”ם is used in Yemenite writings in much the same way that מרן is used in Sefardic communities.

[8] The phrases דין התלמוד and דין התלמודי refer to the bare ruling of the Talmud as stated in the Talmud itself, without a view to later additions and [usually] strictures that were created or contrived by later writings. These mekori expressions are used intensively in the writings of both Rav Ratzon Arusi and his son, Rav Tzefanyah.

[9] The “wiping” referred to here is no different than is commonly used by women when cleaning themselves after urination. It certainly moves the outer labia aside, but there is no inward direct penetration by the fingers, as is usually required by those who instruct women in taharat ha-mishpahah. As Rav Tzefanyah writes explicitly later on in the chapter (p. 107):

“Every bedikah that a woman is obligated to perform, whether she is in a state of purity or uncleanness, she must do it using a cloth made of well-worn white linen, or cotton, or clean soft wool – all of these materials are considered reliable witnesses to her bedikah (cf. Hilkhot Isurei Bi’ah 4:14). According to the opinion of our teacher the Rambam, the manner of performing a bedikah is the same for every instance that one must be performed, whether she is in a state of purity or uncleanness, which is an external wiping between the lips [i.e. of the vagina].”

And as is explained in the note there, the explicit language of the Rambam in Hilkhot Isurei Bi’ah 4:13-15 is that of “wiping” (קינוח, מקנח) only and not of some sort of invasive examination. The point of this check, as stated by the Rambam, is to ascertain that the flow of blood has stopped, not to determine if there is a stray bit of blood in the vagina.

[10] The “more intensive practice” is actually the word mahmirim (מחמירים) and is usually translated or understood as referring someone or something that is “strict.” However, I chose the render it as “more intensive” to remove the idea that while the practitioners of the Shulhan Arukh are serious in their observance, the Rambam and those who rely on him are somehow lax, which is certainly not the case.


pp. 105-106

The Proper Time for Performing a Bedikah of a Hefsek Taharah

According to the opinion of our teacher the Rambam, the bedikah has to be performed before the day becomes dark [ג]. And this was the custom of the Jewish women of Yemen (as well as some among the women of Ashkenaz). However, most of the women from all the ethnic sub-groups (edot; עדות) are very careful to perform a bedikah specifically at the time just prior to the time of shekiah which is printed in the calendars (and this was also the practice of many women of the Sefardic and Ashkenazic traditions, and the practice of many among the Yemenite women living in Eretz Yisrael closely resembled this).

If she forgot to perform the bedikah before sunset (shekiah), but did the bedikah after sunset and before tzeit ha-kokhavim – it still counts for her as a hefsek taharah that was performed during daylight hours, and she may begin counting the first of her seven clean days from that night. [ד]

However, if she performed the bedikah after tzeit ha-kokhavim, her counting is thereby delayed and she may only begin counting her seven clean days on the night of the following day.

If a woman is unable to perform a bedikah just prior to sunset due to either work, travel, an event, or other similar reasons, she is able to perform a bedikah in the morning or the afternoon. If it is clean, this bedikah counts for her as a valid hefsek taharah, and she begins counting seven clean days from that night.

[ג] According to the opinion of our teacher the Rambam, ‘shekiat ha-hamah’ refers to the appearance of 2 stars and ‘tzeit ha-kokhavim’ refers to the appearance of 3 stars.  There is a span of approximately 20 minutes between them (one third of an hour), that is between the appearance of 1 star to the appearance of 3 stars. The mere setting of the sun behind the visible horizon is considered to be prior to ‘shekiat ha-hamah’ and is not the same as the time of ‘shekiat ha-hamah’ that is advertised in the calendars. The entire time that the sun is set behind the visible horizon and there is 1 star, it is still completely day [yom gamur hu] according to halakhah because that one star is considered a daytime star. When the second star appears, it is split between day and night since it is considered to be the appearance of 1 daytime star and 1 nighttime star, without the possibility of deciding between them – and it this time that is referred to as ‘bein ha-shemashot’ (i.e. doubtfully day and doubtfully night). Once the third star appears, it is decisively nighttime since there are 2 night stars against 1 day star. Shekiat ha-hamah‘ is a description of when these 2 stars appear, which is also known as ‘tzeit hakokhavim’ (i.e. ‘stars’ indicates at least two).  From the Torah [מדאורייתא] we suspect that it is likely too late after the appearance of the second star, because we think that perhaps the third star appeared and we didn’t see it … In the opinion of Rav Yosef Qafih z”l, from the time that the sun drops just below the visible horizon until the appearance of the first star takes about 15 minutes, and between the appearance of 1 star and 3 stars is about 20 minutes, making it [i.e. halakhic nightfall] a total of 35 minutes after the setting of the sun behind  the visible horizon … 

[ד] See the previous comment. In the Pithei Teshuvot (196, p. 378) it says, ‘There are those who wrote to be lenient until 13 minutes after shekiah (cf. Taharat HaBayit there), and others who wrote to be lenient until 20 minutes after shekiah (cf. Birurei Halakhah, in the name of the Satmar Rebbe; the Nit’ai Gavriel in the name of the Tzanzer Rebbe.’ And he writes in the FAQ there, ‘Those who conduct themselves according to Rabbenu Tam, if they checked after shekiah they ask a competent rav.’


The Wonderful News for Jewish Women

  1. NO MORE internal examinations that injure and irritate the delicate walls of the vagina. It is not halakhically necessary for any bedikah, for any purpose. Those who maintain that it is necessary are relying on post-Talmudic inventions that derive from mainly ascetic concerns.
  2. NO MORE using a mokh. Ever. It is simply not required.
  3. NO MORE waiting until just prior to shekiah or delaying the counting of seven clean days due to the bedikah being done a few minutes late. A hefsek taharah can be performed either earlier in the day or, not ideally, up to 15-20 minutes after sunset. Ladies, don’t wait so long into the day to make your bedikah when you can do it before you leave for work in the morning!

My sincere hope is that this was helpful and cleared up confusion on the subject. Once again, mekoriut wins the day of practical observances of the halakhah.

Kol tuv,

YB

Next Week’s Podcast

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Join us next week, Thursday March 16th, when we will discuss the question: “How will Judaism survive?” Tackling questions that arise from history, science, philosophy, and some of the functional aspects of Jewish law, we will try to determine a way forward to brighter present and a brighter Jewish future.

Tentative program:

  • Must Judaism change or die?
  • Positive identity Judaism
  • The power is with the people, not institutions
  • What kind of book is the Torah?
  • Truth and information in an era of accessibility and education

Be sure to send in your questions and comments for the TRA Mailbag!

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Happiness, Mazal, and Eating Sweets – Solving the Mystery of Drinking on Purim

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The Dictum of Rava

אמר רבא מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי

“Rava says, A person is obligated livsumei on Purim until he doesn’t know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordekhai.’” (b.Megillah 7b)

Many people, adopting a widespread view, interpret Rava here to be communicating some sort of obligation to excessively consume alcohol on Purim until one either loses some or all of their senses.

What many do not know – or choose to ignore – is that there were those among the Geonim and the Rishonim who understood this statement, as it appears within the context of the Gemara, as being nidheh (“pushed out,” “set-aside,” “excluded”) from the halakhah. These posekim maintain that there is, in reality, no obligation to drink at all other than the inclusion of wine at one’s Purim seudah, and much less to get drunk.

The Rishonim most notably of this position are the Ran and the Rabbenu Efraim (see Arokh HaShulhan, Hilkhot Megillah 695:1-5 for a full discussion). In his siddur, Rav Saadia Gaon lists and explains the laws of Purim, but makes no mention whatsoever of drinking or becoming drunk. He merely instructs that a seudah be eaten during the day that includes meat and wine, both which usually accompany any festive meal in the halakhah.(cf. b.Pesahim 109a, Hilkhot Shevitat Yom Tov 6:1). He also nowhere mentions falling asleep from drunkenness (cf. Siddur Rasag pp. 256-257).

However, it is likely that we are missing the entire point that Rava intended to make in his famous statement. The entire enterprise of drinking on Purim in the first place is suggested based on reading the word livsumei as “to make [oneself] drunk.” In full context of the Gemara and the Geonic codes, the basis for such an interpretation is in actuality fairly weak, and is even forced. As was asked above, what if livsumei doesn’t refer to drinking alcohol at all?

Happiness, Not Drunkenness

The so-called “minor tractates” (masekhtot ketanot) of the Talmud include textual material which dates to the time of the Mishnah which was arranged, expounded upon, and then formally redacted during the Geonic era into fourteen separate discussions. In printed editions, these smaller tractates usually appear just after Seder Nezikin. One of them, Masekhet Soferim, appears just after Avot De-Rabbi Natan and discusses various laws related to the public Torah readings and various sacred books.

In Masekhet Soferim 20:1 (19:1 in some editions), it says:

“And we do not make the blessing on the new moon except for on motza’ei shabbat when a person is happy (mevusam) and in nice clothing…”

The word “happy” (mevusam) is the adjective describing someone who has performed the action of livsumei, used in Rava’s statement on b.Megillah 7b. If we understand livsumei to mean “getting drunk” then we have to reasonably conclude that Masekhet Soferim is instructing one to do kiddush levanah while intoxicated. Such a reading is not only incorrect, but absurd.

The word livsumei means “to make [something] pleasant or sweet” (from the Hebrew word bosem, referring to spices) not “to become drunk,” and it is being used here to metaphorically indicate “happiness,” i.e. the happy mood resulting from the proper observance of the weekly Sabbath was considered – at least by this opinion – to be the best time to recite the blessing upon the new moon.

The Ra’avyah (Rabbi Eliezer ben Yoel HaLevi, 1140-1225) also appears to confirm such a meaning for livsumei. His text of the Gemara was apparently at slight variance from our printed editions. He quotes Rava as saying:

מיחייב איניש לבסומי נפשיה עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי

This reading appears to make even more sense (especially in immediate context, as will be explained below) and very likely means:

“A person must make himself happy (lit., pleasant) to the point that he doesn’t know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordekhai.’”

In his commentary, the Ra’avyah makes no mention of drinking or drunkenness on Purim, but only cites his unique version of the Gemara (cf. Sefer Ra’avyah, Megillah, Siman 564) which he apparently views as being enough of a straightforward instruction regarding the nature of celebration of Purim.

The Sheiltot De-Rav Ahai Gaon: From Pretext to Context

Probably the greatest and most cohesive proof that the meaning of livsumei is “to makes oneself pleasant” comes from the Sheiltot De-Rav Ahai Gaon (8th century). Divided into sections according to the weekly parashah, each section in the Sheiltot contains both halakhic and hashkafic Q&A that is arranged topically. The answers to the questions asked are selected from the Gemara and the Midrash and often contain readings that do not match our printed editions of the Talmud. More often than not, Geonic works such as the Sheiltot and the Halakhot Gedolot hold more accurate versions of Talmudic passages and are regularly used by Talmudic scholars to solve textual difficulties – and it appears the statement of Rava in b.Megillah 7b is no exception.

In Parashat Vayakhel (Sheilta 67), Rav Ahai Gaon relates the dictum of Rava as follows:

ואמר רבא מיחייב איניש למיכל ולמישתי ולאיבסומי בפורייא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי

“Rava says, ‘A person is obligated to eat, to drink, and to be happy (le-ivsumei) on Purim until he doesn’t know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordekhai.’”

It seems that Rav Ahai’s version of the Gemara (or, perhaps his elucidation of it) is meant to mirror the pasuk in Kohelet 8:15 which says, “And so I praised happiness (simhah), that there is no good for a man under the sun except to eat, drink, and to be happy…”

The Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah of Berlin, 1816-1893), in his Emek HaSheilah to this passage, has a lengthy comment which features his very thorough his assessment of this citation of the Sheiltot:

[1] He begins by noting that the Gemara in the Talmud Bavli does not include a mention of eating and drinking, but only says livsumei.

[2] He notes that Rav Ahai Gaon, by first mentioning eating and drinking, is reminding the reader that the main point of the seudah is to “thank and praise” HaShem, as it states in the beginning of the sheilta. A state of thankfulness and praise, says the Netziv, cannot be attained while drunk (cf. Hilkhot Shevitat Yom Tov 6:20).

[3] He also notes that the only “drunkenness” (shikhrut) that should result from this seudah is the normal “intoxication” that happens in the course of a hearty meal of meat and wine. He makes reference to b.Ta’anit 26b where a kohen does not lift his hands at either Minhah or Neilah of Yom Tov for the reason that “intoxication” is common on those days. Rashi there explains that the reference is to a “kohen shatui” and being a shatui means only that one has had a minimal amount of wine (approximately 3 oz.) – he is not “drunk” in the forbidden conception of drunkenness (cf. Hilkhot Tefillah 4:17). Although still in his right mind, a kohen shatui is nevertheless forbidden from performing his priestly duties after having recently consumed even a single serving of alcohol.

[4] He cites the opinion of Rabbi David Luria (Radal) who notes that the meaning of livsumei – as it is used in the Gemara directly in the discussion that directly precedes Rava’s famous statement – is to eat sweet delicacies at the seudah (“revaha livsima shekhiha – room for sweets can always be found” – see b.Megillah 7b). The Radal goes on to say that “It has been established for us that any drinking is supposed to be during the seudah, and wine which is taken with a meal does not get one quickly intoxicated,” a reference to Maimonides in Hilkhot De’ot 5:3.

[5] He then brings the Ba’al HaMaor who, citing Rabbenu Efraim, is of the opinion that, due to the violent narrative involving Ravah and Rabbi Zeira at the Purim seudah, the statement of Rava is nidheh from the halakhah.

[6] To counter the Ba’al HaMaor, the Netziv brings a teshuvah from the Hatam Sofer (OH, Siman 196) where it is explained that the narrative of Ravah harming Rabbi Zeira cannot be applied broadly because Ravah was a special case (i.e. shani – see there). His special circumstances were due to him having been born under the planet Mars, as it explicitly says in b.Shabbat 156a:

האי מאן דבמאדים יהי גבר אשיד דמא א״ר אשי אי אומנא אי גנבא אי טבחא אי מוהלא אמר רבה אנא במאדים הואי אמר אביי מר נמי עניש וקטיל

“One who is born under Mars will be one who sheds blood, as Rav Ashi observed such a one will either be a surgeon, a thief, a slaughterer, or one who circumcises. Ravah said, ‘I was born under Mars.’ Abaye responded, ‘You also inflict punishment and kill.’”

After hearing the pronouncement about those born under Mars and what their professions will be, Ravah notes that he too was born under Mars and yet he engages in none of these professions. Abaye responds to Ravah that he is nevertheless a violent person. According to the Hatam Sofer, Abaye made this statement in reference to the very incident of Ravah and Rabbi Zeira at the Purim seudah!

That there is in reality no such thing as astrology or astrological influences is the topic for another discussion. However, within the general Persian worldview of the hakhmei Bavel in the Gemara it seems that what took place during their Purim seudah was not due to drinking at all, but was instead attributed to the predisposition of Ravah to violence. The Gemara also states that specifically during the month of Adar is when a person’s individual mazal is very strong (b.Ta’anit 29b), which may – in the view of the Amoraim – have pushed Ravah over the edge toward being actively violent. In fact, when this story is related in the Sheiltot, it entirely lacks the word ivsum (intended as “became drunk” – a word present in the Gemara’s version) before kam Ravah (“Ravah arose [and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira]”) and does not seem to attribute Ravah’s violent episode to drinking at all.

Instead, the Hatam Sofer explains that Rabbi Zeira refused to make a seudah with Ravah the following Purim because there was a clear and present danger (i.e. shekhiah hezika – see there) that needed to be avoided, as it is forbidden to rely on miraculous intervention for safety in the face of practical realities. This is perhaps instructive for us today when choosing what company to keep for the Purim festivities. There are those who will undoubtedly be violent and inappropriate on Purim, but such people should be avoided out of a concern for our personal safety and the safety of our children.

Conclusion

The version of the Sheiltot supports the reading of the Ra’avyah, Rav Sa’adia Gaon, and others who never viewed Rava’s statement as being a reference to becoming drunk, and therefore saw no need to exclude it from the halakhah, as did the Ran and Rabbenu Efraim. Instead, Rav Ahai Gaon in his Sheiltot understands Rava to be referencing a normal, Biblical rejoicing where the Jewish people eat, drink, and are happy (Kohelet 8:15). The word livsumei is either a reference to rejoicing or to the eating of delicacies, as mentioned in the direct context of the Gemara just before the statement of Rava. The narrative of Ravah slaughtering Rabbi Zeira was not due to drinking at all, but was instead due to Ravah’s supposed astrological inclination toward violence, caused by the supposed strengthening of his mazal during the month of Adar. Rabbi Zeira’s refusal to make another seudah with Ravah is also not due to his prior excessive drinking, but due to the prohibition of relying on miracles in the face of practical safety concerns. On that page of the Gemara, the story should be seen as a related tangent – something that is highly common in the flow of the Talmudic discussion – being apropos because of the context of the incident having taken place at a Purim seudah.

It should now be abundantly clear that there is simply no way to justify the drunken and intensely shameful behavior that is perpetrated year after year on Purim in the name of Torah and Judaism.

Purim Sameah,

Kol tuv,

YB

Mekori Q&A – Major Problems with the Kabbalah

Q: Someone asked…

I have heard you mention on several occasions that you object to the kabbalistic idea of there being multiple manifestations of divinity. Do you believe that such ideas are avodah zarah (idolatry)? The kabbalists who employed such language were strict monotheists, and it seems that their depictions amounted to little more than poetic illustrations of the many perceptions of God found within the Tanakh and rabbinic literature. If someone were to affirm such ideas, but still believed in Ein Sof, would you still have a problem with that? Thanks.

A: Thank you for your questions.

I do indeed view the “multiple manifestations of divinity” concept (referred in the kabbalah to as partzufim, or “faces”) as being avodah zarah. The Kabbalists who used this language were not strict monotheists. They were, however, very strict dualists who affirmed a belief in a transcendent god (which they termed Ein Sof, or “The Infinite”) who, prior to the creation, “creates” (or, emanates) another god which is imminent (i.e. finite). This language is explicit in the Zohar literature, especially in its explanation of Bereshit 1:1.

Zohar 1:15a [ד] –

 בְּהַאי רֵאשִׁית בְּרָא הַהוּא סְתִימָא דְּלָא אִתְיְידַע לְהֵיכָלָא דָא
הֵיכָלָא דָא אִקְרֵי אֱלהִים וְרָזָא דָא בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלהִים

“With this Reishit (beginning), the Concealed One which is not known created (bara) this chamber, and this chamber is called Elohim (God). This is the secret meaning of the verse, ‘Be-Reishit bara Elohim‘ [i.e. ‘Using Reishit, Ein Sof created Elohim’]”

This passage reads Bereshit 1:1 as referring to two gods (powers, potencies, emanations, or what have you), one creating the other. Incidentally, the Gemara on b.Megillah 9a discusses certain changes that were made by the hakhmei ha-sanhedrin when preparing the first Greek translation of the Torah as requested by King Ptolemy. One of the changes they made was to switch the order of the words in their translation from בראשית ברא אלהים to אלהים ברא בראשית in order to avoid the appearance of polytheism since, due to the common style, as enabled by the syntax of the Greek language, the most important word would be placed first. This being the case, the hakhamim were afraid that בראשית, appearing first in the Torah, would be misunderstood as a reference to a deity. As Rashi explains there:

אלהים ברא בראשית. את השמים – שלא יאמר בראשית שם הוא ושתי רשויות הן וראשון ברא את השני

“God created in the beginning – the heavens, etc. [This rewording] was so that no one would say that Bereshit is a name and that there are therefore two gods (reshuyot, “powers”), and the one created the other.”

The commentary of the Tosafot on this passage says that,

הרי בראשית אינו שם כלל אלא בתחילה

“Behold, Bereshit is not a name at all, rather [it means] ‘In the beginning.'”

The Zohar not only adopts the mistaken reading of Bereshit 1:1, but it also purports that it is the “secret” meaning of the original words.

Just in case you think that my reading of the Zohar is uncharitable, the Kisei Eliyahu (written in the 19th century by Eliyahu Suleiman Mani as an introduction to the Zohar and Lurianic Kabbalah) makes a sharp distinction between the Ein Sof – to which he says it is forbidden for us to direct our prayers – and Zeir Anpin (one of the lower manifestations/faces), which is referred to as “our God” and which, together with his celestial wife Nukba, cares for and governs the world on behalf of the Ein Sof.

From page כ”ו – [brackets mine]
kisei-eliyahu-citation-1

“The principle that arises [from the previous section] is that the First Cause – which is called Ein Sof by mouths of all the kabbalists – is the one who emanated, created, formed, and made all things, and he conceals himself within Zeir Anpin. Therefore Zeir Anpin is the ruler of all the created things, and directs them, and nourishes them, and provides for them with the power of Ein Sof that is in him. Therefore, he [i.e. Zeir Anpin] is our God and we are his people, for our souls are a part of him, and he is whom we should worship, etc.”

From page כ”ז – [brackets mine]
kisei-eliyahu-citation-2

“And so you see that all the directing of the world is done through Zeir Anpin, and everything is by the power of Ein Sof, blessed is he, which illumines him like a soul within him For with his power [i.e. the power of Ein Sof] Zeir Anpin performs all of his deeds, and also with all of our calling out to him. All of our prayers are to him [i.e. to Zeir Anpin] because ‘he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock of his hand’ [cf. Tehillim 95:7]. And just as our teacher [Yitzchak Luria] has written (may his merit protect us) in the book Mavo Shaarim, ‘We are his people Israel and all of us are guarded by Zeir and Nukba, and we are their children, as it is written: You are children of HaShem your gods’ [cf. Devarim 14:1, apparently elohim here is being taken by Luria to be plural and a mystical reference to the heavenly couple of Zeir Anpin and Nukba].”

This type of language is unfortunately not rare, and it is highly problematic.

As for the monotheism of those who espoused such ideas, I would say that while they may have strongly professed a strict monotheism, their writings betrayed otherwise. Rav Yihyeh Qafih, z”l refers to this type of profession in his Milhamot HaShem as being no different than when Christians, after explaining all of their ideas about multiplicity within God, the incarnation through a virgin, etc. then proceed to say “but we really just believe in one God” – it is not much more than lip service to a monotheistic idea. In saying this, Rav Qafih quotes directly from a very important passage in the Moreh HaNavokhim of the Rambam which says,

If, however, you have a desire to rise to a higher state, viz., that of reflection, and truly to hold the conviction that God is One and possesses true unity, without admitting plurality or divisibility in any sense whatever, you must understand that God has no essential attribute in any form or in any sense whatever, and that the rejection of corporeality implies the rejection of essential attributes. Those who believe that God is One, and that He has many attributes, declare the unity with their lips, and assume plurality in their thoughts. This is like the doctrine of the Christians, who say that He is one and He is three, and that the three are one. Of the same character is the doctrine of those who say that God is One, but that He has many attributes; and that He with His attributes is One, although they deny corporeality and affirm His most absolute freedom from matter; as if our object were to seek forms of expression, not subjects of belief. For belief is only possible after the apprehension of a thing; it consists in the conviction that the thing apprehended has its existence beyond the mind [in reality] exactly as it is conceived in the mind. If in addition to this we are convinced that the thing cannot be different in any way from what we believe it to be, and that no reasonable argument can be found for the rejection of the belief or for the admission of any deviation from it, then the belief is true. Renounce desires and habits, follow your reason, and study what I am going to say in the chapters which follow on the rejection of the attributes; you will then be fully convinced of what we have said: you will be of those who truly conceive the Unity of God, not of those who utter it with their lips without thought, like men of whom it has been said, “Thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins” (Jer. 12:2). It is right that a man should belong to that class of men who have a conception of truth and understand it, though they do not speak of it. Thus the pious are advised and addressed, “Commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still. Selah.” (Ps. 4:5)

(I:50 – Friedlander Edition)

True monotheism is necessarily apophatic, and consists in our taking every measure to nullify any corporeality or spatio-temporal attributes from our conception of God. Doing this is essential to “pulling the plug” on even the possibility of idolatry, which a proper monotheistic conception of God necessarily precludes.

The Kabbalah, however, is not only decidedly cataphatic, but its practitioners relate to divinity in very practical and matter-of-fact ways on the basis of such mistaken descriptions of God. I wish that it were an uncommon occurrence, but I regularly hear the kabbalistic rabbis in my own city make bold and unabashed statements such as, “You’re God, I’m God, everything is God. In Judaism we believe that the entire world is just God” (this is a direct quote). The repeated instances of these and similar statements simply disallow me from accepting the thesis of the kabbalistic apologists. To claim that all of the cataphatic statements made in the Zohar and other mystical books are mere “metaphors” or “poetry” to illustrate certain concepts does not stand up to textual scrutiny. Further, it defies the consistent events of history and cannot be maintained with complete intellectual honesty. While I do believe that some kabbalists (e.g. the Ben Ish Hai) worked very hard to distance the kabbalah from this troubling phenomenon, and they should be respected and praised for doing so, the fact is that the majority then did not, and today still do not, do so.

Another important point about the “poetic” language used to express acts of God in the kabbalah is the switch from kingly decrees in the Torah’s creation narrative to very intense and graphic sexual imagery in the narrative of the Zohar. One of the reasons, in my view, that the Torah expressed creation in terms of statements or decrees (i.e. “let there be,” etc.) is because an expression of God’s will in a decree or a statement is one of the least corporeal concepts we can relate to, being readily translated into simile and metaphor. This portrayal was in sharp distinction to nearly every other creation myth in antiquity wherein the world was seen as either being manufactured from the bodies of the gods and goddesses themselves, or as a product of copulation between various divinities. Even the eminent scholar of kabbalah, Gershom Scholem, acknowledges the sexual mythos inherent in the Zoharic depiction of God in the act of creation, describing it as a “re-emergence” and admitting that such imagery is foreign and in direct tension with the Biblical account (cf. On The Mystical Shape of the Godhead, p. 108).

The purpose of not employing such common ancient mythological imagery – even though we do have a principle of torah dibrah ke-lashon benei adam (“the Torah speaks in human terms”) – was, I believe, to immediately divorce the ancient hearer of the Torah from such ideas. That the basis of creation are divine pronouncements or decrees was also explicitly championed by Hazal (cf. Pirkei Avot 5:1ff) – they never made any mention of supposed “divine sexuality.” The kabbalah, however, reintroduced these mythological concepts to the point where kabbalistically-minded individuals truly believe that blessings, etc. come into the world via the supposed unification of male and female forces in a heavenly realm. So, even though Yermiyahu HaNavi (cf. 7:18; 19:4-5; 23:27; 44:17-22, et al) railed against the worship of Baal and the Queen of Heaven (which featured sexual relations with temple prostitutes in order to encourage the deities to do likewise above), husbands and wives are now taught that the mystical purpose of their sexual relations on Friday night is for the supposed unification of the sefirot of Tiferet (also called “Tzadik” and representative in the kabbalah of the male member) and Malkhut (also called “Shekhinah” and representative in the kabbalah of the female genitalia). In effect, we have in many ways returned to our ancient errors through such teachings. “As a dog returns to its vomit, so also does a fool repeat their folly” (Mishlei 26:11). May we be delivered from all such foolishness.

Lastly, and most importantly, the standard for idolatry is much lower than needing to express cataphatic views of God or adopting a form of Panentheism. As Rambam explains in the opening chapters of Hilkhot Avodah Zarah, idolatry – in its most basic form – consists of merely using or appealing to other beings (or perceived beings) as intermediaries between oneself and God – even if one does not believe that such intermediary beings are themselves gods or a part of God (cf. 1:2-3, Yemenite Manuscripts). Rambam is very clear there that professing a strict monotheism does not rescue one from committing serious acts of idolatrous worship.

Thanks for writing. I hope this helped to answer your questions.

Kol tuv,

YB

Parashat Vayetze: HaMakom – God’s Place or the Place of God?

Forthodoxy

From Parashat Vayetze arises the source for the well-known title for God Ha-Makom (“The Place”).  This title is traditionally used in the Haggadah Shela-Pesah and is sometimes translated into English as “the Omnipresent.” But how does the Hebrew phrase “the place” give rise to the concept of omnipresence?

The popular teachings of the Kabbalah and Hasidism have postulated that HaMakom is a veiled reference to Panentheism and the central Lurianic doctrine known as “tzimtzum” (i.e. that God somehow made a “void” in the midst of himself into which he placed the created universe). This idea, of course, is completely without basis within the teachings of Hazal and its explanation entails the setting aside of several tenets of Judaism and principles of pure monotheism. This misunderstanding of the meaning of HaMakom is based on a passage from the Midrash Rabbah that says “He is the place of the world, but the world is…

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The Prohibition of Hadash – A Meqori Perspective

[Note: The below is for information purposes only, as is everything on this site. The decision to act upon any of it or not is the personal decision of the reader and any details regarding the observance of any halakhah – especially those laws which are intricate, complicated, and/or severe – should be discussed with a competent rav.]

[Further Note: The position expressed below does not necessitate a functional change in the kashruth of hadash as commonly practiced today. However, it does place an almost identical practical outcome on a newer, and squarely meqori, line of reasoning. This is the intended purpose of what follows.]

What in the world is “hadash”?

The word hadash means “new” and is a reference to “new grain” – in other words, grain that has taken root after the sixteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan of one year until after the sixteenth of Nisan of the following year. During that time, the grain which took root is referred to as hadash or “new” and it is forbidden to eat it until after the sixteenth of Nisan.

So, what happens on the sixteenth of Nisan? This is the second day of the week of Pesah when the first of the grain offerings for the year – called the Omer – is offered in the Beyth HaMiqdash, or the Temple. In a time like today when there is no Temple, new grain is forbidden for the entire day of the sixteenth, but when the offering is brought in the time of a Miqdash, new grain becomes permitted directly after the Omer is offered during the day of the sixteenth within Jerusalem and surrounding areas, and after halakhic midday (hassoth) in the outlying areas. After either the Omer is offered or midday or the end of the sixteenth of Nisan, the grain is no longer referred to as hadash (“new”), but yashan (“old”), signifying its new permitted status.

Interestingly enough, the laws related to hadash and yashan stem from a single verse in Wayyiqra 23:14 which says,

TEXT

כג:יד  וְלֶחֶם וְקָלִי וְכַרְמֶל לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, עַד עֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה עַד הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת קָרְבַּן אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:  חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם.

TRANSLATION

23:14 And you shall eat neither bread, nor parched grain, nor fresh kernels, until this very day, until you have brought the [omer] offering of your God; it is a statute forever throughout your generations and in all your dwellings.

With such large legal implications stemming from such a short passage, the laws governing the consumption of hadash and yashan seem to be in the category of what the Mishnah in Masekheth Haghiyghah (1:8) refers to as כהררים תלויים בשערה מקרא מועט והלכות מרובות – “Like mountains suspended by a hair, [meaning that in connection to this body of laws there is] little scriptural basis and a multitude of halakhoth.”

This prohibition, however, does not apply to all grains. As with the laws of hallah and hamess, the first mishnah in Masekheth Hallah tells us that the application of the law is the same also with regard to hadash and yashan – namely, that the only grains under the prohibition are the hamesheth miyney daghan (“the five species of grain”) which are listed there as החיטים והשעורים והכוסמין ושיבולת שועל והשיפון. The Rambam in Kitab As-Siraj (his commentary on the mishnayoth) explicitly says – as does the Mishnah and Gemara – that these are exclusively species of Wheat and Barley. The common identification of שיבולת שועל with “oats” is an incorrect identification made by Rashi (cf. b.Pesahiym 35a), as is his identification of several others. This means that oats, rice, and even “buckwheat” (which is actually not “wheat” at all) do not come under the prohibition of hadash at all. As an aside, I always refer to oats by the Modern Hebrew designation קוועקר (pronounced “Keveyker” – i.e. “Quaker [oats]”) and not שיבולת שועל in order to avoid furthering the confusion and misidentification. 

The exact reasoning behind this commandment is unclear. However, In the Guide the Rambam generally places particulars of agricultural commandments under the rubric of opposition to the vast array of idolatrous practices by ancient pagans which were practiced by them in their agriculture. He also usually views them as being important, unlike animal sacrifices, for engendering respect for God and gratitude for His provision for mankind and specifically the Jewish nation. The Sefer HaHiynukh (#303) explains that the offering of the Omer prior to partaking of any grain from the wheat or barley harvest from the previous year is analogous to the requirement to make a berakhah before partaking of food, drink, smell, before performing misswoth, or witnessing certain types of people or phenomena.

Who, When, Where, and How

So, we have gone over the “what” and the “why” – remaining are the questions of “who,” “when,” “where,” and “how.” In other words,

  • Who is obligated to observe the prohibition of hadash, and on whose grain does the prohibition fall?
  • When does this prohibition apply? Just when there is a Beyth HaMiqdash, or in the current era as well?
  • Where does it apply? In the land of Israel, or does it apply outside as well?
  • How does one observe this prohibition in the places and times that it does apply?

The Rambam in Hilkhoth Ma’akhalot Asuroth 10:2-6 specifies that the prohibition of hadash applies in every era, even when there is not a Miqdash. This is the undisputed law from Hazal and it is contested by no one. So, then, this answers the question of “when.” And we will revisit the specific of the Rambam’s opinion a little later on in our discussion.

As for the “who,” it applies to Jews wherever they live whether men or women – and even servants, i.e. everyone who is obligated to the public misswoth associated with the Land. However, there is another aspect of the “who” question which we will also return to in a bit.

However, the central question in our time – and indeed in every era in which these halakhoth were discussed – is the question of “where”: Where does the prohibition of hadash apply? Within Israel or outside of it also?

The Mishnah states in Masekheth Qiydhushiyn (1:9) that

TEXT

א,ט  כל מצוה שאינה תלויה בארץ נוהגת בארץ ובחוצה לארץ וכל מצוה שהיא תלויה בארץ אינה נוהגת אלא בארץ חוץ מן העורלה והכלאיים ורבי אליעזר אומר אף החדש

TRANSLATION

Every commandment which is not dependent on the Land, we conduct ourselves [in accordance with it both] in the Land and outside of the Land. And every commandment that is dependent on the Land, we conduct ourselves [in accordance with it] only in the Land, except for `orlah and kilayyim. And Rebbi Eli`ezer says, even hadash.

Rebbi Eli`ezer includes hadash, along with `orlah and kilayyim, as a prohibition that although it depends on the land it nevertheless is kept even outside of the land. We will examine the position of Rebbi Eli`ezer momentarily.

In Masekheth `Orlah (3:9) it says explicitly that

TEXT

החדש אסור מן התורה בכל מקום

TRANSLATION

Hadash is forbidden from the Torah in every place.

Because of the seemingly explicit nature of this Mishnah, many Rishoniym rule in accordance with the opinion of Rebbi Eli`ezer. However, as we shall see, the opinion of Rebbi Eli`ezer may not be as simple or as straightforward as it seems.

The Unresolved Bavliy

The issue of whether the prohibition of hadash applies everywhere or just in the land of Israel is based on the interpretation of the last phrase in the pasuq (Wayyiqra 23:14) where it says be-khol moshvoteykhem – “in all of your dwelling places.” In other words, what are the halakhic implications of the word be-khol?

In the Talmudh Bavliy, Qiydhushiyn 37a-38b, the discussion of what exactly is implied by the phrase be-khol moshvoteikhem seems to have never been truly resolved, with the hakhamiym being essentially divided. As Rashi comments in his piyrush on the Torah there:

TEXT

בכל משבתיכם: נחלקו בו חכמי ישראל יש שלמדו מכאן שהחדש נוהג בחוצה לארץ ויש אומרים לא בא אלא ללמד שלא נצטוו על החדש אלא לאחר ירושה וישיבה משכבשו וחלקו

TRANSLATION

“The sages of Israel were divided on this matter (i.e. the extent of the halakhah as determined by the interpretation of be-khol moshvoteykhem). There were some that learned [from here] that the [prohibition] of hadash applies outside of the land, and there are some who say that this phrase does not come to teach us anything except that we were not commanded concerning hadash until after taking possession and settling [of the land] after its conquest and division [among the tribes].”

Because of this lack of clarity in the sughyah of the Bavliy, most poseqiym were left to determine their positions on the basis of the Mishnah.

The only direct examination of the position of Rebbi Eli`ezer suggests two different ways of understanding him: [a] he holds that due to be-khol moshvoteikhem the prohibition of hadash applies only in the land, and [b] that he held that it only applied in the land of Israel and was not related to `orlah or kilayyim (this view sees that the Tana Qama in the Mishnah only mentioned `orlah and kilayyim but thereby implied hadash) but was instead governed by the general rule stated by the Mishnah

In other words, his statement in the Mishnah either comes to argue for leniency or stricture. In the end of the discussion, they conclude that Rebbi Eli`ezer’s statement should be seen as an argument for a stricter interpretation as opposed to that of the Tana Qama which excluded hadash.

It should be very carefully noted that the seemingly explicit statement from Masekheth `Orlah cited previously is never brought as a decisive proof in the course of the sughyah in Qiydhushiyn with regard to hadash. It stands to reason that if the Mishnah in `Orlah was supposed to be understood as constituting an explicit and incontestable prohibition of all hadash everywhere in the world that it would have been brought in this discussion. Had they done so, it seems that they would not have had anything much to discuss.

Either way, as noted by the Taz on Shulhan `Arukh, Yoreh De`ah 293:4, the Gemara does not conclude in a very definitive way in favor of the view that the halakhah is definitely like Rebbi Eli`ezer. In fact, it appears that even in the generation of Rav Ashey there was a difference of opinion as to whether the prohibition of hadash outside of Israel was de-rabbanan or a de-oraytha, as it states in b.Menahoth 68b.

So, it seems that the Talmudh Bavliy holds that there is a prohibition of hadash even outside the land, but many particulars seem to simply be left un-examined. For instance, does this apply to Jewish grain outside of Israel, or does it apply to non-Jewish grain as well? What about grain that has been exported to lands outside of Israel – does this have the prohibition of hadash as well?

The Simple and Succinct Talmudh Yerushalmiy

Interestingly enough, the statements of Rebbi Eli`ezer in the Mishnah of both Qiydhushiyn and `Orlah are met with the exact same (i.e. uniform) explanation in the Talmudh Yerushalmiy. For those who may not know, there is no Gemara in the Talmudh Bavliy for any masekhta in the first order of the Mishnah, except for Masekheth Berakhoth. For this reason, `Orlah is simply left without commentary by the Persian hakhamiym. This is mostly due to the fact that such laws were agricultural and tied directly to the land of Israel. In Babylon they simply had little or no relevance.

In `Orlah 20a of the Talmudh Yerushalmiy it comments on the statement of the Mishnah that החדש אסור מן התורה בכל מקום by stating the Mishnah from Qiydhushiyn, but qualifying it as follows

TEXT

החדש אסור מן התורה בכל מקום:  מתניתא דרבי ליעזר דתנינן תמן כל מצוה שאינה תלויה בארץ נוהגת בארץ ובחוצה לארץ וכל [מצוה] שהיא תלויה בארץ אינה נוהגת אלא בארץ חוץ מן הערלה ומן הכלאים.  רבי ליעזר אומר אף החדש.  מה טעמא דרבי ליעזר (ויקרא כג) בכל מושבותיכם בכל מקום בין בארץ בין בחוצה לארץ.  מה מקיימין רבנין טעמא דרבי ליעזר בכל מושבותיכם בחדש שכן יצא בחוץ

TRANSLATION

Hadash is forbidden from the Torah in every place. The Mishnah of Rebbi Li`ezer (i.e. a shorter form of “Eli`ezer” used in the Yerushalmiy) that we learned there: “Every commandment which is not dependent on the Land, we conduct ourselves [in accordance with it both] in the Land and outside of the Land. And every commandment that is dependent on the Land, we conduct ourselves [in accordance with it] only in the Land, except for `orlah and for kilayyim. And Rebbi Li`ezer says, even hadash.” What is the reason [for the statement] of Rebbi Li`ezer? [It is because of the phrase] Be-khol moshvoteykhem, meaning in every place whether in the land or outside of the land. What did the sages realize was the reason [for the statement] of Rebbi Li`ezer? Be-khol moshvoteykhem, meaning that [the prohibition applies] even to hadash that has traveled (i.e. has been carried; exported) outside the land.

Both the Peney Mosheh and the Qorban `Eydhah on the Yerushalmiy affirm that the Yerushalmiy meant by this explanation to exclude grain grown outside of Israel itself, and that Rebbi Eli`ezer’s statement was intended to prohibit only grain grown within Israel that was exported to outlying areas or surrounding countries. This interpretation actually fits quite nicely within the seeming vague resolution of the Bavliy. Being that the vast majority of farmers outside the land of Israel were non-Jews in the Talmudic era, it makes sense that this limitation was put on the prohibition of hadash.

The Position of the Ba”H and Non-Jewish Grain

But what about in later eras when Jews were allowed to own land and farm it in various lands of the Diaspora? Does hadash apply to Jewish grain grown outside of Israel?

First of all, let’s consider the common reasoning given for why the majority of orthodox Jews do not observe the prohibition of hadash today. In fact, it is almost completely ignored. There are two reasons: First is the halakhic position of the Ba”H (the Bayith Hadash) written by Rav Yoel Sirkis z”l on the Tur, and the second – referenced mainly by Hasidic Jews – is a supposed dream of Israel Baal Shem wherein he supposedly received a permissive answer to the question of the halakhic status of hadash.

The second of these reasons is ridiculous and is not worthy of wasted breath. The Torah is not in Heaven (i.e. lo ba-shamayim hiy) and the hakhamiym ruled in the Talmud that דברי חלומות לא מעלין ולא מורידין – “the words of dreams neither elevate a matter or bring it down,” meaning that we do not take the contents of dreams into account as regards halakhic decisions. This is true even for a naviy emeth – a “true prophet” – so how much more so for anyone else, especially a dubious character like the supposed founder of the Hasidism.

As for the position of the Ba”H, it is a bit complex and enlists many different aspects found in the sefariym of his predecessors. His position is basically that since he saw that all of the rabbis of his locale (sixteenth century Poland) – including the more pre-eminent ones among his teachers – completely ignored the prohibition of hadash, there must have been a cogent halakhic reason and therefore he sought a legal justification of such a practice. Citing Rishoniym who held that hadash never applies in the fields of grain which were grown by non-Jews, he brings evidence from several places in the Gemara that the `Omer offering was not able to be offered from grain grown in the fields of non-Jews. He extrapolated from this that grain unsuitable for the `Omer offering must likewise not be subject to the prohibition of hadash.

The view of the Ba”H was harshly criticized by many, most notably the Gr”a and the Sifthey Kohen on the Shulhan `Arukh. The Shulhan `Arukh itself rules that the laws of hadash apply even to grain grown in the fields of non-Jews. However, Rav Qaro likely wrote this because he read the words of the Rambam in Hilkhoth Ma’akhaloth Asuroth chapter 10 as referring to all grain everywhere. However, this – like his reading of the Rambam with regard to `eruviyn – may possibly be an overly strict reading. Nowhere does the Rambam specify in the Mishneh Torah that the grain under discussion is of either Jews or non-Jews.

The Practice of Yemen and the Rambam

Mori Yusef Qafih z”l writes in his piyrush on the Rambam there that while many people understand the position of the Ba”H to be a hiydhush and a da`ath yahiydh (a singularly novel halakhic position), this is actually not the case as it was the practice in Yemen from early times to take a similar position to the Ba”H. In Yemen, the practice was not to apply the prohibition of hadash to the grain of non-Jews. He also writes that while he was growing up and learning in Yemen that he heard from hakhamiym there that it was very possible that this was in actuality the position of the Rambam himself, and he brings various indications for this assertion from within the text of the Mishneh Torah itself.

Rav Ratson Arussi, chief rabbi of Kiryat Ono, rules that this is exactly the position of the Rambam with regard to hadash and the grain of non-Jews. He writes so specifically in a teshuvah.

TEXT

לק”י

כבוד הרב שלום וברכה

רציתי לדעת מה הדין ביום בנושא של תבואה חדשה לדעת הרמב”ם

איזה תבואה אסורה רק בשדה של יהודי? בארץ או גם בחו”ל? האם מותר “להעלים עין” ולא לשלוח משגיחים וכו’ לחו”ל על מנת לפטור את החדש בדרך של ספק ספיקא והאם בכלל אנו צאן הרמב”ם נוקטים בשיטת ספק ספיקא ואם כן מהם התנאים לסברה שכזאת

יורנו הרב וה’ יסייעהו בדבר תורתו

גלעד

תשובה: רק תבואת חו”ל של יהודי – אסורה. אבל תבואת חו”ל של גוי – אינה אסורה

TRANSLATION

Peace and blessing to his honor, the Rav.

I would like to know what is the proper ruling with regard to the new grain today in opinion of the Rambam.

Which grain is forbidden, only that which is grown in the field of a Jew? In the land or outside of it? Is it permitted to “turn a blind eye” and to purposefully not send kashruth inspectors to areas outside of Israel [where grain is grown] etc. and to render it permissible in any case through use of a safeq-safeqa? And can we who are included in the flock of the Rambam adopt the halakhic methodology of such a safeq-safeqa, and if so then what are the conditions for being able to use a line of reasoning such as this?

Guide us, our teacher, and may HaShem give you assistance in the matters of his Torah,

Gil`adh

Response: Only the [new] grain grown outside of Israel by a Jew is forbidden, but the [new] grain grown outside of Israel by a non-Jew is not forbidden.

Summing It All Up

So, it would seem from the sources that there is indeed a prohibition on hadash today, and that it applies even outside of the land of Israel. However, it only properly applies to grain grown by or in the fields specifically owned by Jews. Inside the land, however, it would seem that all grain – whether grown by Jews or non-Jews – is subject to the prohibition of hadash. This appears to be the best and most reasonable interpretation of both Talmudhiym overall, as well as the nuanced position of the Rambam himself.

Practical Considerations and Outcomes

And this brings us to the practical questions of “how”.

In Israel, the Rabbanut and other agencies are already very careful to monitor all grain grown in the land and to make sure that all products sold are, in fact, yashan and not hadash. However, while many Jews avoid imported products, specifically from America, due to concerns of hadash, it seems that there is really no halakhic concern in these instances and those living in Israel may eat of imported products made of wheat and barley grown by non-Jews from outside of Israel.

In America, the only possible concern for yashan would be the imported Israeli products which, as we just said, really present no concern (as long as they are certified kosher) since the Rabbanut and certifying agencies already monitor very closely for hadashThe same goes for most other countries throughout the world.

Europe is mostly the same, however I do remember hearing that Israel exports a lot of durum wheat used for semolina flour to some places along the coast of the Mediterranean. This type of flour is used mainly for noodles, so those in Europe may want to check into the source of flour for these products to make especially sure. Other than this, however, there does not seem to be any real concern for hadash.

I hope that this was clear, insightful, and helpful. I plan to draft a more concise Hebrew version of my understanding with regard to this important halakhic topic, so be on the lookout for that in the near future, be-`ezrath HaShem yithborakh.

Kol tuv,

YB

Did the Rambam Codify a Prayer to Angels?

[Note: The below is for information purposes only, as is everything on this site. The decision to act upon any of it or not is the personal decision of the reader and any details regarding the observance of any halakhah – especially those laws which are intricate, complicated, and/or severe – should be discussed with a competent rav.]

Learning through the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam, one will soon reach the seventh chapter of Hilkhoth Tefiyllah. The main subject of this chapter is the order and number of daily berakhoth and the general structure of the three daily prayers. However, in the fifth halakhah one encounters something apparently difficult in light of the general approach of the Rambam – a recitation that sounds very much like an entreaty or prayer to “angels.” The recitation is as follows:

TEXT

וכל זמן שייכנס אדם לבית הכיסא אומר קודם שייכנס התכבדו מכובדים קדושים משרתי עליון שמרוני עד שאיכנס ואצא כי זה דרכן של בני אדם

TRANSLATION

“Each time that one enters the bathroom (beyth ha-kisse’), he says just before entering, ‘Be honored, O honored holy ones, servants of the Most High, guard me until I both enter and exit, for this is the way of human beings.'”

This version of the recitation is essentially the one that is found in the Talmudh Bavliy, but there are other versions. For instance, in the siddur of Rav Sa`adyah Gaon (p. 88) the text, mostly identical to that of the Rambam, differs slighty:

TEXT

התכבדו מכובדים קדושים משרתי עליון עמדו במקומכם והזהרו בי שזו דרכן שלבני אדם

TRANSLATION

“Be honored, O honored holy ones, servants of the Most High, stand in your place and beware of me, for this is the way of human beings.”

[It is likely that the phrase in the text of the Rambam “shimruniy – guard me” (שמרוני) is not actually a request to guard the one saying it, but should be understood as a terse form of that which is in the text of Rav Sa`adyah Gaon, i.e. a warning that the “angels” should not follow the person into the place of uncleanness due to base human functions. At least, this is how I imagine that the Rambam understood it. In the intensely mystical Sassanian (Persian) environment of the Babylonian hakhamiym, it is likely that they did intend to entreat angels to guard them against “demons” or negative forces that they believed to be present in unclean places such as the bathroom. It is interesting to note that in some manuscripts of the Mishnah Torah the word המתינו (hamtiynu – “wait for me”) is found in place of שמרוני.]

Personally, as with most things, I believe that the original intention of this recitation is expressed in the Talmudh Yerushalmiy. The hakhamiym of Eress Yisra’el were generally more rational and divorced from superstition. There are several possible reasons for this, but in my opinion it is due to being surrounded by overtly idolatrous polytheism and their seeking to separate fully from it – seeing it for what it is – as opposed to the Zoroastrian culture which maintained an approximation to “monotheism” although not in pure form, the its abstract ideas being more subtle in their error than the concrete rituals of the Romans. As such, the popular astrological wisdom and superstitions regarding numbers and orientations of objects that was widespread in that part of the world – being unconnected with the worship of statues and various gods – had the appearance of wisdom and what we might call today “scientific knowledge” which was likely the basis that the hakhmey bavel allowed themselves to accommodate them. This can be understood similarly to how the halakhah requires that one rely on common medical knowledge to make determinations about when to profane the Shabbath for the sake of preserving life. Later readers and students of the Talmudh Bavliy, among both the Geoniym and the Rishoniym, tended to move the text away from such a context, alternately ignoring and/or reinterpreting the meaning of such statements, and many times choosing to base themselves on the more sensible (read, “less mystically-charged”) Talmudh Yerushalmiy.

However some of the Geoniym, most famously Rabbenu Hananel, began to learn the sughyoth of each Talmudh in a side-by-side comparative fashion, coming to conclusions on the meaning of the Mishnayoth on the basis of this type of contrastive study. It is likely that the Rambam also engaged in a similar type of study, as did Rav Sa`adyah Gaon, judging from their writings and halakhic rulings in various places which adopt the position of the Yerushalmiy over that of the Bavliy. This, despite the fact that the Bavliy was considered the more normative source of practical Jewish law. In a contemporary context, Rav David Bar-Hayyim יצ”ו of Makhon Shilo regularly holds classes wherein he has revived this method of study and pesaq, his close students referring to it as the “Bar-Hayyim method.” Even in the writings of Rav Hayye Gaon, there was at times a tendency to mention the halakhic practices of the yeshivoth of Eress Yisra’el with a tolerant attitude, even to the point of stating that although such was not the practice in Bavel, it was nevertheless acceptable to comport oneself according to their practices, should one personally elect to do so (cf. Ramban on b.Niddah 51b in reference to y.Berakhoth 2:3). This open attitude on the part of the Geoniym (and particularly Rav Hayye) speaks volumes with regard to the meqoriy understanding of regional mihaghiym, the elucidation of which is perhaps for another post.

The version preserved in the Talmudh Yerushalmiy is:

TEXT

נכנס לבית הכסא מברך שתים אחת בכניסתו ואחת ביציאתו בכניסתו מהו אומר כבוד לכם המכובדים משרתי קודש דרך ארץ הוא פנו דרך ברוך האל הכבוד כשהוא יוצא מהו אומר ברוך אשר יצר את האדם בחכמה

TRANSLATION

“One who enters the bathroom (beyth ha-kisse’) makes the blesses twice; once on the occasion of his entering and one on the occasion of his exiting. On entering, what does he say? ‘Honor to you, O the honored ones, servants of the Holy One, this is the way of the world, turn to your path. Blessed is the honorable God.’ When he exits, what does he say, ‘Blessed [are you, HaShem Eloheynu, King of the universe,] who formed the man with wisdom.'”

In this version, the “angels” are simply enjoined not to follow, as if the one entering the bathroom is merely taking a respectful leave of their presence. It also lacks an entreaty of any kind, whether for protection or for them to “wait.”

Mori Yusef Qafih z”l, in his commentary to Hilkhoth Tefiyllah 7:5, seems to prefer the version of the Yerushalmiy since it is obviously less problematic in its phrasing. Rav Qafih there [הערה יז], after commenting on the problems of adulteration to the printed texts of the Gemara and the Rambam (as opposed to the uncensored handwritten manuscripts), quotes the Yerushalmiy and then writes, ונאה ויאה בהתאם למטרה (“…and [this version] is pleasing and befitting in accordance with the goal [of saying it in the first place].”) However, as we shall see, the Rambam did not consider it problematic because of his rational meqoriy understanding of who or what these “angels” truly are and the overall function of the recitation (referred to by the Yerushalmiy as a “blessing”) in the first place.

Never did the Rambam understand this declaration as a “prayer,” nor at any time did he deem requests or favors as permissible when asked of mal’akhiym (“angels”). In the fifth of his thirteen foundations (note: יסודות not עיקרים) of Jewish faith, the Rambam states emphatically that

The fifth foundation [of faith] is that God, blessed be he, is worthy that we serve him, to glorify him, to make known his greatness, and to perform his commandments, but not to do this to those that are below him, that is, in the creation. Not to the angels, or to the stars, or the planets – or anything else – for they are all created things in nature and in their function, there is no volition or judgment [of their function] except by God himself. It is also not fitting to serve them as intermediaries to God. Only to God should you incline your thoughts and your actions. This is the fifth principle and it warns against `avodhah zarah (idolatry) and most of the Torah speaks out against this.

From here it is clear as to what the exact position of the Rambam was regarding the concept of entreating entities other than God himself. He forbade it completely and considered it to be completely outside the realm of proper monotheistic faith. But with all of the other adjustments in the Mishneh Torah that the Rambam makes in order to present the halakhah in a way that is free from superstitious concerns, why did he not simply leave out this recitation before entering the bathroom? Did the Rambam indeed codify a prayer to angels?

No, he did not.

In an article by Rabbi Dr. Hananel Sari (Shevat 5773) written for the monthly newsletter of the organizations Makhon Mosheh and Halikhoth `Am Yisra’el entitled Or HeHalikhoth, the position of the Rambam from his own writings is explained as regards the nature of mal’akhiym and specifically the purpose and identity those that are constantly referred to by Hazal as accompanying each individual (cf. b.Ta`aniyth 11a).

The following is my translation of the article by Rabbi Dr. Sari:

TRANSLATION

…The mal’akhey ha-shareyth that the Gemara describes, such as that they accompany a person home from the beyth kenesseth on Shabbath, appear to be the same mal’akhiym that are mentioned in other places in the sayings of Hazal. They testify to the deeds of a person if he acts in a way that is not appropriate (cf. Ta`aniyth 11a), and it seems that a person is supposed to separate and take leave of them by reciting various apologies before they enter to perform their needs (i.e. use the bathroom – cf. b.Berakhoth 60b).

The Shulhan Arukh writes that today we no longer have the custom to say this apology, called hithkhabdu mekhubadim (“Be honored, O honored ones…” cf. Orah Hayyim 3:1), since we are not so strong in our yirath shamayyim (“fear of Heaven”) that mal’akhiym accompany us (cf. Mishnah Berurah). In the halakhic work Kaf HaHayyim an opinion is brought in opposition to this that there are mequbaliym who recommend to say it also in our times, since these mal’akhiym continue to accompany each person also today. This mahloqeth, whether mal’akhiym still accompany people in our generation or not and if it is feasible to turn to them (for they comment on their observation that reciting this passage accomplishes not only positive assistance to those who say it, but it is also an important part of promoting a more meticulous inspection of our deeds), these issues are debated due to a conception of mal’akhiym which is far removed from that of the Rambam.

In the Moreh Navokhiym (2:6, 3:22) the Rambam, in dealing with the explanation of the nature of mal’akhiym, mentions that the meaning of the “mal’akh” is not always consistent, however the basic meaning is always “shaliyah” (emissary). Because of this, each naviy is worthy of being called by this name and even the forces of nature through which the Holy One, blessed be he, manages His world, all of them are worthy to be called “mal’akhiym” and they are known as the pamalya shel ma`alah (i.e. the entourage of the Holy One, blessed be he). After this introduction, the Rambam brings a passage from Midrash Qoheleth that tells how when a person sleeps “nafsho omereth le-mal’akh umal’akh omer le-keruv – his soul speaks to the ‘angel’ and the angel speaks to the ‘cherub’.” And from here he learns that in the language of Hazal the creative faculty of a person is called a “mal’akh” (‘angel’) and his intelligence is called “keruv” (‘cherub’).

The Rambam knew that the majority of people were not accustomed to designating these parts of the soul as being mal’akhiym and would even resist accepting this fact. Therefore, he continues and says, “How important this is for the one who knows, and how ugly it is to those who are fools.” We find therefore who these mal’akhiym are according to the Rambam that accompany a person to every place that he goes, and it is clear now that in his opinion each person is accompanied by these two mal’akhiym also in our times. Now it only remains to clarify who is the “evil mal’akh” and who is the “good mal’akh.” The question is not so difficult, yet the Rambam also deals with this question, but in another chapter of the Moreh (2:12) – see there.

END TRANSLATION

Making requests – either for intercession or favors – from objects or beings other than HaShem is a violation of the fifth foundation of Jewish faith and is the basis of all idolatry. Even nevi’iym who received their prophecies through the agency of a mal’akh didn’t ever make requests of them. Instead, they prayed directly to God and allowed God to use whatever means he deemed necessary to answer them.

This short recitation instituted by Hazal amounts to little more than a dual reminder to oneself while tending to regular bodily needs: (a) to hold off thinking holy and religiously-constructive thoughts while in the bathroom until we are finished and exit, and (b) that our intellects – our rational capacity (צלם א-להים sselem Elohiym)- are intensely powerful tools for serving the One and only Creator of the Universe, blessed is he.

So, we truly do have two angels sitting just above our shoulders. Now, that is something to think about.

Kol tuv,

YB