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Ma’aseh Avos = Halacha L’Ma’aseh

October 22nd, 2010 1 comment

When it comes to the parshiyos of sefer Bereishis, many people (mistakenly) kick back, relax and go on “cruise control”.  Now is the time for stories, not actually actively learning any “real halacha” from the Chumash.

However, this is the wrong approach. There is a plethora of relevant information that we can and should learn (lishmor v’la’asos) from the Avos and Imahos. This does not only fall into the realm of hanhaga, midos tovos and ma’asim tovim, but even halacha l’ma’aseh.

One prime example can be seen in this week’s parsha. But first a little background. It is well known (Shulchan Aruch Y”D 88,2) that if two people are eating together at a table, one eating meat and the other dairy, that a hekker (or something used to show that there is something different here – i.e separate placemats, or putting something distinctive down) is required, to highlight the fact that one is eating meat and other dairy in order to serve as a constant reminder not to chas v’shalom eat from each other’s plates and be nichshal in the issur of bassar b’chalav.

There is a machlokes haposkim between Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Y”D 88,1) and the Pischei Teshuva (Y”D 88,1) (actually the issue is really a lot more complicated, but this is the basic machlokes) whether appointing someone to stand over the two people eating to make sure that  they don’t eat from each other’s plates, (a shomer) also works like a hekker or not. Meaning can one rely on someone standing there instead of a hekker to allow them to eat together. Different poskim through the ages  have paskened like both sides of this machlokes.

The Lev Aryeh (Chullin 104b sv u’vazeh) as well as the Meam Loez (Yalkut Meam Loez  Parshas Mishpatim pg. 892 – Hebrew) without quoting each other, bring a proof to this issue from this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayera (18,8). The passuk states that upon welcoming the three angels, Avraham Avinu serves them a meal fit for a king, made up of both meat and dairy ingredients (tongue, as well as butter or cream). Then the passuk continues “And he stood over over them, under the tree, and they ate.” Both the Lev Aryeh and the Meam Loez, as well as Rav Elyashiv Shlit”a (Kovetz Haaros shel HaGrish (pg 16 s.v v’af) all ask why does the Torah have to specifically state that Avraham Avinu “stood over them”.

They maintain that it must be that while some of the angels were eating milk, the others were eating meat, and Avraham Avinu was acting as their shomer to make sure that “na’er the twain shall meet”. And, they bring this as proof that a shomer definitely should work as a hekker between meat and milk. Rav Elyashiv shlit”a (Ha’aros B”meseches Chullin 104b sv. Gezara) actually paskens this way as well. [An important yedia for all those learning hichos basar b'chalav].

One more short thought on this very subject, the Talilei Oros quoting the Meilitz Yosher asks why the passuk has to emphasize that the angels ate; especially because Rashi (ibid.) quoting the Medrash maintains that angels can not actually eat, rather they maintained the appearance of eating. The only difficulty with this is we all know the famous Medrash that by the time of receiving the Torah, the angels did not want to release it to Moshe Rabbeinu, until he told them they were undeserving of it as they did not actually keep the Torah, for they ate bassar b’chalav at Avraham’s house! But, we see they did not actually eat! So why did they lose the zchus of keeping the Torah?

The Meilitz Yosher answer that we see from the pasuk that even though they did not actually eat, the Torah still calls their actions eating. We see from here the power of “Maris Ayin”. This a Rabbinical decree not to engage in certain permissible acts that may look like committing an Aveirah m’Deoraysah.

For even though they may not have actually partaken in eating the forbidden basar bchalav, since they gave the appearance of doing so, all the angels lost their zchus of being able to keep the Torah. The expression might be “looks can be deceiving”, but even so, one must make sure not to engage in questionable activities, and even questionable-looking ones.

From the above mentioned pasuk we see not to take the hanhagos of the Avos lightly, as even from just a small act on their part, they impart to us a treasure trove of  hanhaga, hashkafa, and even halacha.

Priceless Torah – The Power of Diminutive Deeds

October 14th, 2010 No comments

 Parshas Lech Lecho

 by Rabbi Shlomo Price

In Bereshis-Genesis 14:13 [see Rashi there], it says that Og came and told Avraham about the capture of Lot, Avraham’s nephew, which consequently led to Lot’s rescue by Avraham.

 Rav Zeidel Epstein ,ztl, in his sefer-book, Haoros on Chumash-Bamidbar-p.126, brings Rashi [Bamidbar 21:34]  who explains that Moshe was afraid of  fighting with Og the King of Bashan because of this “merit” that Og had. Moshe was afraid that this merit was so great that it would outweigh the merits of Moshe and all the Jews.

 Rav Epstein, ztl., points out that if we scrutinize Og’s “merit’ we will uncover a startling revelation.

 Rashi in Bereshis, [ibid.] brings the Midrash which explains that Og really had ulterior motives. He wasn’t interested in saving Lot’s life. Rather Og was hoping that Avraham would go out to war to save Lot, and ultimately Avraham would be killed at the battle. This would enable Og to take Sarah, Avraham’s wife, to be his wife.

 So we see that rather than being a praiseworthy merit of saving Lot’ life, it was a deed with the vilest intentions of murder, immorality and stealing. Why does he deserve any reward, and even if he does, would it be so much that Moshe was afraid of it?

 Even more than this, if we examine further we will see that Og seemingly received plenty of reward already. He was saved from the Mabul-Flood on credit because Hashem knew what Og would do later. Og also lived a long life to about five hundred years. So it’s a wonder why Moshe was so afraid of this “merit?”

 In truth, what we see here is a confirmation of the Gemoro-Talmud Shabbos 32a. The Gemoro quotes the verse in Iyov-Job 33:23 that says, “If there be for him an angel, one interceding angel among a thousand, to vouch for man’s uprightness; then [G-D] is gracious to him and says: “Redeem him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom for him.” [We say this verse in Kaparos before Yom Kippur].

 The Gemoro expounds on this verse that even if 999 angels speak against him and only 1 speaks for him [that is 1/1000 or .001 of all the angels] it is possible that he will be saved.

 Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yosi Haglili says that even if that 1 defending angel himself is not completely for him, but 999 parts of that angel are against him and only 1/1000 part is for him [that is 1/1,000,000  (one millionth) or .000001 of all the testimony of the angels] it is still possible that he will be saved, “I have found a ransom for him.”

 It is possible that the whole action is thoroughly evil and the epitome of utter villainy, none the less, if there is a fraction of a fraction of some good in it he will get reward and be saved by it.

 We see from here that not only do our good actions carry a lot of weight but even the minutest part of an action can have a lot of power and value. This applies even if the main intention of the action was not for good purposes.

 Rabbi Epstein, ztl., concludes, “One who reflects on this will see the wonder of wonders of how much power and value there is to a person’s action. Through such a small fraction of good, one receives such a great reward. How great is Hashem’s favor and mercy on His creations.”

 Rabbi Paysach Krohn, in his book, “In the Footsteps of the Maggid”, p. 160 brings a beautiful story about the Rosh Hayeshiva of Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, ztl. (1904-1980), which also shows us the value of even one small gesture of a mitzvah.

A taxi was arranged to take the Rosh Hayeshiva and one of his students to a bris-circumcision. When they saw the taxi driver’s identity plate with his Jewish sounding name on it, they realized that he must be Jewish. Meanwhile, in the front seat, the cab driver realized that one of his passengers was a prominent rabbi. He reached over to his right and put on his cap over his bare head as an act of respect for the Rosh Hayeshiva.

Rav Hutner turned to his student and said in Hebrew, so the driver shouldn’t understand, “Mi yodea kama olom habo yesh lo al tenua zu-Who knows how much merit in the World to Come he will get for this act?”

The talmid didn’t think that this small sign of respect was so significant so he asked Rav Hutner, “Does it merit Olom Habo-the World to Come?” Thereupon Rav Hutner related the following story.

The Chidushei Harim, Rabbi Yitzchak Mayer Alter (1789-1866), one of the previous Rebbes of Gur, had a custom to go to the mikvah-ritual bath every day. His attendant noticed that he always took the longer route to the mikvah rather than the shorter one, but he never asked why. Finally, one day his curiosity overcame him and he asked the Rebbe why he purposely seemed to go the long way to get to the mikvah.

The Chidushei Harim answered, “When we go this way, we pass the station where Jewish porters unload the heavy packages for travelers. These porters are very simple non-religious people. They do not pray, nor do they learn Torah. However, when they see me, they stop what they are doing, straighten up and call to each other, ‘Reb Itcha Myer is coming! The Rebbe, Reb Itcha Myer, is coming!’

As I pass by they nod their heads respectfully and acknowledge my presence. For this (display of kavod HaTorah-honor for the Torah) they will get Olom Habo. I know they have no other way of earning it, so I walk this way every day to give them that opportunity.”

Of course we learn from this the great ahavas Yisroel -love and sensitivity for fellow Jews (even non-observant ones) that the Rebbe had, but we can also see another important point. We must not underestimate the small acts that we do, nor the seemingly simple acts that others do.

I will conclude with an amazing story from the sefer “Tuvicha Yabiu,” Vol I, p.240.

 There was a kashrut supervisor in a certain hotel who used to have a special minyan-quorum of ten for Mincha at the hotel. One day he was short one person, so he approached a gardener who was working there. The gardener, who was a simple person, had no idea what Mincha  or a minyan were, but after the supervisor explained to him the importance of the mitzvah he agreed to join the minyan. Before they started to pray a different person joined, so the gardener, who wasn’t needed, left.

 About ten years later, when the supervisor had already changed his job, this gardener appeared to him in a dream. His face was beaming and he informed the supervisor that he passed away about a month ago and you have no idea how much reward he is getting just for agreeing to join the minyan. He added that in merit of that mitzvah he was granted permission to appear to the supervisor to request from him to approach the gardener’s only son in Yerushalaim. His son wasn’t religious, but maybe the supervisor could persuade him to say Kaddish for his father. The gardener gave the supervisor the exact address and he succeeded in persuading the gardener’s son.

 Let us consider, what did that gardener actually do? All he did was to agree to join the minyan, nothing more. Look how much reward he got-the privilege of appearing to the supervisor in a dream.

 All these stories should teach us the value of every small deed and step that we take to serve Hashem.

 We also have to realize that this great bargain is ONLY as long as we are ALIVE. One moment later and it’s too late. Imagine our terrible regret when we realize, in the World of Truth, that we literally squandered so many opportunities to get tremendous merit for the World to Come.

 Let us take this to heart and do our utmost to utilize these wonderful opportunities and we will live a happier life in this world and the next.


Rabbi Shlomo Price, a renowned lecturer and educator, is also a senior Rebbe at Neve Tzion. To receive his weekly Priceless Torah – please contact him at

Noahide Halacha 101 or Meet the Adams Family

October 8th, 2010 No comments

by Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Today, I will be meeting someone who is extremely concerned and knowledgeable about halacha, yet doesn’t even keep a kosher home. Neither has he ever observed Shabbos. On the other hand, he is meticulous to observe every detail of Choshen Mishpat.

Who is this individual?

Allow me to introduce you to John Adams who is a practicing Noahide, or, as he prefers to call himself, an Adamite.

Adams asserts that he descends from the two famous presidents, a claim that I have never verified and have no reason to question. Raised in New England and a graduate of Harvard Law School, John rejected the tenets of the major Western religions but retained a very strong sense of G-d’s presence and the difference between right and wrong. Study and introspection led him to believe that G-d probably had detailed instructions for mankind, and sincere questioning led him to discover that of the Western religions, only Judaism does not claim a monopoly on heaven. A non-Jew who observes the Seven Laws taught to Noah and believes that G-d commanded them at Har Sinai has an excellent place reserved for him in olam haba.

John began the practice of these laws. John is quick to point out that, with only one exception, these laws were all commanded originally to Adam. Since John is proud of his family name and lineage, he likes calling himself an Adamite.

 What are the basics of Noahide practice?

We all know that a gentile is required to observe seven mitzvos, six of them prohibitions, to avoid: idolatry, incest, murder, blasphemy, theft, and eiver min hachai (which we will soon discuss), and the seventh, the mitzvah of having dinim, whose nature is controversial. The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah #416) and others note that these seven mitzvos are actually categories, and a non-Jew is really required to observe several dozen mitzvos.

 Kosher, Noah style

I asked John if eating meat presents any religious problems for him.

“Well, you know that Noah was prohibited from eating meat or an organ that was severed before the animal died, a prohibition you call eiver min hachai,” said John, obviously proud that he could pronounce the expression correctly. “So sometimes I come across meat that I may not eat. The following question once came up: Moslem slaughter, called halal, involves killing the animal in a way that many of its internal organs are technically severed from the animal before it is dead. Because of this, we are very careful where we purchase our organ meats.”

 May a Noahide Eat Out?

“This problem went even further,” John continued. “Could we eat in a restaurant where forbidden meats may have contaminated their equipment?”

I admit that I had never thought of this question before. Must a gentile be concerned that a restaurant’s equipment absorbed eiver min hachai? Does a Noahide needs to “kasher” a treif restaurant before he can eat there? Oy, the difficulty of being a goy!

“How did you resolve this dilemma?” I timidly asked.

“Well, for a short time our family stopped eating out,” he replied. “You could say that we ate only treif at home. My wife found the situation intolerable – no MacDonald’s or Wendy’s? Although I know that observant Jews do not understand why this is such a serious predicament, but please bear in mind that we made a conscious decision not to become Jewish. One of our reasons was that we enjoy eating out wherever we can.

“So I decided to ask some rabbis I know, but even then the end of the road was not clearly in sight.”

“Why was that?”

“I had difficulty finding a rabbi who could answer the question. From what I understand, a rabbi’s ordination teaches him the basics necessary to answer questions that apply to kosher kitchens. But I don’t have a kosher house – we observe Adamite laws. As one rabbi told me, ‘I don’t know if Noahides need to be concerned about what was previously cooked in their pots.’”

“How did you resolve the predicament?”

 How treif is treif?

“Eventually, we found a rabbi who contended that we need not be concerned about how pots and grills were previously used. He explained that we could assume that they had not been used for eiver min hachai in the past 24 hours, which certainly sounds like a viable assumption, and that therefore using them would only involve the possibility of a rabbinic prohibition, and that we gentiles are not required to observe rabbinic restrictions. The last part makes a lot of sense, since there is nothing in the Seven Laws about listening to the rabbis, although I agree that they are smart and sincere people. [Note: I am not certain who it was that John asked. According to Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #19 (at end), there would be no heter to use pots that once absorbed eiver min hachai. There are poskim who disagree with Chasam Sofer (see Darchei Teshuvah 62:5), but many of these hold that there is no prohibition altogether with a gentile using pots absorbed with eiver min hachai.]

“The result is that we now go out to eat frequently, which makes my wife very happy. It was a good decision for our marital bliss, what you call shalom bayis. Although I understand that this is another idea we are not required to observe, it is good, common sense.”

 Milah in the Adams Family

When John’s son was born, he raised an interesting shaylah. To quote him: “Circumcision as a religious practice originates with G-d’s covenant with Abraham, the first Jew. But my covenant with G-d predates Abraham and does not include circumcision. However, even though there was no religious reason for my son to be circumcised, my wife and I thought it was a good idea for health reasons. On the other hand, I know that many authorities forbid a gentile, which I technically am, from observing any commandments that he is not specifically commanded (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:9).”

John is a very gregarious type, and loves to explain things fully. “We actually had two concerns about whether we could circ John Jr. The second one was that many authorities contend that the seventh mitzvah of instating ‘Laws,’ which you call ‘Dinim,’ includes a prohibition against injuring someone (Ramban, Genesis, oops, I mean Bereishis 34:13). According to this opinion, someone who hits someone during a street fight may lose his world to come for violating one of our seven tenets. I have come too far to risk losing my share in the world to come, so I try very hard not to violate any of the laws. I called some rabbis I know to ask whether there was any problem with circumcising my son for health reasons. The rabbi I asked felt that since we are doing this for medical reasons, it is similar to donating blood or undergoing surgery. The upshot was that we did what no self-respecting Jew should ever do: We had a pediatrician circumcise John Jr. on the third day after his birth, to emphasize that we were not performing any mitzvah.”

 No Bris

Proud to show off his Hebrew, John finished by saying: “So we had a milah, but no bris. We also decided to skip the bagels and lox. Instead, my wife and I decided it was more appropriate to celebrate with shrimp cocktails, even though primordial Adam didn’t eat shrimp. All types of meat were only permitted to Noah  after the Deluge, which you call the mabul. I believe that some authorities rule that Adam was permitted road kill and was only prohibited from slaughtering, while others understand he had to be strictly vegetarian. My wife and I discussed whether to go vegetarian to keep up the Adams tradition, but decided that if meat was ‘kosher’ enough for Noah, it is kosher enough for us. We decided we weren’t keeping any stringent practices even if they become stylish.”

 Earning a Living

“Have you experienced any other serious dilemmas due to your being an ‘Adamite?’”

“Oh, yes. I almost had to change my career.”

I found this very curious. As John Adams seemed like an honest individual, it seemed unlikely that he had made his living by stealing or any similar dishonest activity.

Non-Jews are forbidden to perform abortions, which might affect how a Noahide gynecologist earns a living, but John is a lawyer, not a doctor. Even if John used to worship idols or had the bad habit of blaspheming, how would that affect his career?

 May a Gentile Practice Law?

John’s research into Noahide law led him to the very interesting conclusion that his job as an assistant district attorney was halachically problematic. Here is what led him to this conclusion.

One of the mitzvos, or probably more accurately, categories of mitzvos, in which a Noahide is commanded in the mitzvah of dinim, literally, laws. The authorities dispute the exact definition and nature of this mitzvah. It definitely includes a requirement that gentile societies establish courts and prosecute those who violate the Noahide laws (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 9:4; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14). Some authorities contend that the mitzvah of dinim prohibits injuring or abusing others or damaging their property (Ramban, Breishis 34:13).

However, this dispute leads to another issue that was more germane to John’s case. There is a major dispute among halachic authorities whether Noahides are governed by the Torah’s rules of property laws, which we refer to as Choshen Mishpat (Shu”t Rama #10), or whether the Torah left it to non-Jews to formulate their own property and other civil laws. If the former is true, a non-Jew may not sue in a civil court that uses any system of law other than the Torah. Instead, he must litigate in a beis din or in a court of non-Jewish judges who follow halachic guidelines. Following this approach, if a gentile accepts money based on civil litigation, he is considered as stealing, just as a Jew is. This approach is accepted by many early poskim (e.g., Tumim 110:3). Some authorities extend this mitzvah further, contending that the mitzvos governing proper functioning of courts and civil laws apply to Noahides (Minchas Chinuch #414; 415). Following this approach, enforcing a criminal code that does not follow the Torah rules violates the mitzvah of dinim.

As John discovered, some authorities extend this idea quite far. For example, one of the mitzvos of the Torah prohibits a beis din from convicting or punishing someone based on circumstantial evidence (Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos, Lo Saaseh #290; Sefer HaChinuch #82). If the same applies to the laws of dinim, a gentile court has no right to use circumstantial evidence (Minchas Chinuch #82, #409). Thus, John was faced with an interesting predicament. According to these opinions, a gentile who prosecutes because of circumstantial evidence might violate the Seven Mitzvos of Noah even if the accused party appears to be guilty. It is understood that according to these opinions, one may not prosecute for the violation of a crime that the Torah does not consider to be criminal, or to sue for damages for a claim that has no halachic basis.

 Napoleonic Code and Halacha

On the other hand, other authorities contend that non-Jews are not obligated to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat; but instead the Torah requires them to create their own legal rules and procedures (HaEmek Shaylah #2:3; Chazon Ish, Bava Kamma 10:1). These authorities rule that gentiles perform a mitzvah when creating a legal system for themselves such as the Napoleonic Code, English Common Law, or any other commercial code. Following this approach, a non-Jew may use secular courts to resolve his litigation and even fulfills a mitzvah by doing so. Thus, John could certainly continue his work as a D.A. and that it would be a mitzvah for him to do so.

It is interesting to note that following the stricter ruling in this case also creates a leniency. According to those who rule that a gentile is not required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile may not study these laws, since the Torah prohibits a gentile from studying Torah (see Tosafos, Bava Kamma 38a s.v. karu; cf., however, that the Meiri, Sanhedrin 59a, rules that a gentile who decides to observe a certain mitzvah may study the laws of that mitzvah in order to fulfill it correctly.) However, according to those who contend that the mitzvos of dinim follow the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile is required to study these laws in order to observe his mitzvos properly (Shu”t Rama #10)).

 John’s Dilemma

The rabbis with whom John consulted felt that a gentile could work as a district attorney. However, John had difficulty with this approach. He found it difficult to imagine that G-d would allow man to make such basic decisions and felt it more likely that mankind was expected to observe the Torah’s civil code. He therefore gravitated to the opinion of those who held that gentiles are required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat. As a result, he felt that he should no longer work in the D.A.’s office, since his job is to prosecute based on laws and a criminal justice system that the Torah does not accept.

“What did you do?”

“I decided to ‘switch sides’ and become a defense attorney, which has a practical advantage because I make a lot more money.”

“How do you handle a case where you know that your client is guilty?”

“Firstly, is he guilty according to halachah? Did he perform a crime? Is there halachically acceptable evidence? If there is no halachically acceptable evidence, he is not required to plead guilty. Furthermore, since none of my clients are Noahides or observant Jews, they can’t make it to heaven anyway, so let them enjoy themselves here. Even if my client is guilty, the punishment determined by the court is not halachically acceptable. It is very unclear whether jail terms are halachically acceptable punishment for gentiles. Philosophically, I was always opposed to jail time. I think that there are better ways to teach someone to right their ways than by incarceration, which is a big expense for society.”

 Interesting Noahide Laws

“Have you come across any other curious issues?”

“Here is a really unusual question I once raised,” John responded. “Am I permitted to vote in the elections for a local judge? According to some authorities, the Torah’s prohibition against appointing a judge who is halachically incompetent applies equally to gentiles (Minchas Chinuch #414). Thus, one may not appoint a judge to the bench who does not know the appropriate Torah laws, which precludes all the candidates. When I vote for one of those candidates, I am actively choosing a candidate who is halachically unqualified to judge. I therefore decided that although there are authorities who rule this is permitted, and that therefore it is permitted to vote, I wanted to be consistent in my position. As a result, I vote religiously, but not for judgeships.

 Becoming Jewish

“John, did you ever consider becoming Jewish?”

“First of all, I know that the rabbis will discourage me from becoming Jewish, particularly since I don’t really want to. I know exactly what I am required to keep and I keep that properly. I have no interest in being restricted where and what I eat, and I have no interest in observing Shabbos, which, at present, I may not observe anyway, and that is fine with me (Gemara Sanhedrin 58b). I am very willing to be a ‘Shabbos goy’— and I understand well what the Jews need — but it is rare that I find myself in this role. Remember, I do not live anywhere near a Jewish community.

Although I have never learned how to read Hebrew – why bother, I am not supposed to study Torah anyway – I ask enough questions from enough rabbis to find out all I need to know.

 In Conclusion

Although it seems strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, this should actually be commonplace. Indeed, many non-Jews are concerned about their future place in Olam Haba and, had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, many thousands more would observe the mitzvos that they are commanded. When we meet sincere non-Jews, we should direct them correctly in their quest for truth. Gentiles who observe these mitzvos because Hashem commanded them through Moshe Rabbeinu are called “Chassidei Umos HaOlam” and merit a place in Olam Haba.


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Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff, a prolific Halacha writer, and former Rav and Dayan in Buffalo and Baltimore, currently serves as a Morah Hora’ah in Neve Yaakov in Yerushalayim. Rabbi Kaganoff, a renowned posek who answers shaylos from around the world, is the author of seven books on Rabbinic scholarship, both in English and Hebrew. He and his Rebbitzin are extraordinarily dedicated to the Jewish people, and work tirelessly to assist, support and teach. They have touched countless lives and earned the respect of thousands. He can be reached at

Rabbi Kaganoff also runs a Tzedaka Organization – Nimla Tal. To learn more about it or to donate, please click here:

New Beginnings – Divrei Chizuk for Shabbos Bereishis

October 3rd, 2010 No comments

New Beginnings – Divrei Chizuk for Shabbos Bereishis

 By Rabbi Yehuda Spitz

Transcribed from a shmuze given in Yeshivas Ohr Somayach – Yerushalayim on Shabbos Bereishis 5771

As is customary in many shuls and yeshivos around the world, Ohr Somayach makes a special kiddush on Shabbos Bereishis. The question is – Why? Why is this – making a special kiddush on this particular Shabbos – such an almost-universal custom?

Those readily partaking in the kugel and cholent might just say “Why not?!”, but there must be more to it than just indulging in gastronomical pleasures.

Some might say “Well, it must have something to do with Simchas Torah, or the ending and restarting of the Torah cycle”, but others might contend that we already celebrated that yesterday, on Simchas Torah itself. If so, what is the deeper meaning of celebrating b’davka on Shabbos Bereishis?

I would like to preface the answer with a story I recently heard from Rabbi Yaakov Minkus, a rebbe in Yeshivas Beis Yisrael:

Once during the Simchas Torah hakafos, the Rav of a certain shul noticed two congregants just standing in the back schmoozing away the time. Concerned, he approached them and asked them to come join in the traditional dancing. Politely, they refused. “Rabbi”, they told him, “This dancing is not for us. For you as the Rabbi to dance with the Torah, it makes perfect sense, but not for us! You see, to tell you the truth, we didn’t learn anything this past year, nor did we set aside any specific time to learn at all. Any time we had the chance to learn, we spent the time schmoozing and wasting time. So on Simchas Torah we are doing the same. We have no right to dance with the Torah.”

 The Rabbi replied “You are right and you are wrong. As you know, there are two different kibbudim that are given out on Simchas Torah: that of the Chassan Torah and that of the Chassan Bereishis. The Chassan Torah is the aliyah where we celebrate the concluding of the Torah. This is customarily given to the Rabbi or another Talmid Chacham who has made great strides in his Torah learning over the past year. According to your own admission you are correct, you do not have much to dance for.

But there is another aspect to our dancing on Simchas Torah, and that is of the Chassan Bereishis. This is the aliyah where we celebrate the starting anew of the Torah. Anyone can receive this kibbud. So for this aspect of Simchas Torah, you should also join in! It’s a new cycle, a new starting point. So even if last year you fell short, now is the time to pick yourselves up and get dancing – for all the Torah you will iy”H learn over the next year!”

This starting point, this new beginning is now – Shabbos Bereishis.

We see it clearly in this week’s parsha – Bereishis. Aside from reading about the actual creation of the world from nothingness, (which if not a terrific example of a new start I don’t know what is,) there is also the story of Kayin and Hevel (Cain and Abel). After Kayin murders Hevel in cold-blood, G-d confronts him about his crime. After first denying any wrongdoing or even knowledge of the murder, (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”) G-d then pronounces sentencing and Kayin finally admits to the crime. He says just three words: (Gen. 4:13) “Gadol Avoni M’niso” – meaning that “this sin is too great for me to bear”.

We then find something astounding – G-d reduces his sentence in half! In pasuk 12, Kayin’s sentence is that of “Na v’Nad” – wandering and exile in seclusion. Yet, after his admittance, in pasuk 16 it states that Kayin settled in the land of Nod – meaning exile and seclusion. What happened to the decree of constant wandering?

Chazal explain (Sanhedrin 37b – see also Torah Temimah to pasuk 13) that we see that his teshuvah – even though it was half-hearted, and even though is was only said when confronted, and even though he at first denied any wrongdoing, and even though he committed such a despicable act and the potential for all mankind for all time was halved, even so  – it caused his punishment to be halved! Not only that, he merited to see seven generations of his own offspring! (One of whom, Na’ama, was a tzaddekes – the wife of Noach, through whom mankind propagated after the Flood.) All because of those three words he said.

 This is an unbelievable lesson to take from parshas Bereishis – the power of renewal and new beginnings. This is the message we need to take from this kiddush on Shabbos Bereishis.

Even if last year we didn’t accomplish as much in learning as we could have or even should have.

Even if Elul zman didn’t work out as well as we would have wanted.

Hashem is giving us now a chance for a new start, potential for zman anew.

That is the reason klal Yisrael celebrates on Shabbos Breishis. May everyone be zoche to utilize this message for the upcoming zman, and Iy”H next year on Simchas Torah everyone here will be able to say, that “the reason I am dancing is because due to the aliyah I had in learning, I could be the Chassan Torah!”

Priceless Torah – Parshas Succos – The Meaning of Succos

September 21st, 2010 No comments

by Rabbi Shlomo Price                                

 In the Parsha of Succos [Emor]  there is a mitzvah of sitting in the Succah on Succos [Vayikra 23:42]

There are many lessons to learn from this mitzvah. I will just mention a few.

Rabbi Pliskin brings down in “Growth Through Torah,” that the Chofetz Chaim said that the mitzvah of being hospitable to guests benefits the host in a spiritual way. The guests serve as a reminder to the host that every person is only a guest in this world.

The holiday of Succos is also a reminder that we are only in this world temporarily. Just as the booths we sit in are temporary dwellings, so too our entire sojourn in this world is only a temporary dwelling. Therefore, on Succos, said the Chofetz Chaim, we should be especially careful to invite guests. For then we have a double reminder of our temporary status in this world. This awareness will increase our motivation to make the best use of our time to accomplish as much good as we can.

I saw in the Sefer “LeHagid-Chumash Hamaggidim,” that he brings from the Alshich HaKadosh who asks why the name of the holiday is Succos and not named after any of the other Mitzvos that are done on this Holiday [like pouring water on the altar or the four species]?

He answers that all the high levels of saintliness and righteousness that a person wants reach in this world are dependant on one thing only, how much one internalizes this fact that he is a living in this world as a temporary resident. One must realize that all money and assets in this world are temporary and minor and the Next World is the main and permanent dwelling. That is why the name of the Holiday is Succos which teaches us this important lesson.

In fact they bring a story about the great Tzadik Rav Boruch Toledano. His son said that when they came to Eretz Yisroel from Morocco they bought an apartment and told their father that they could move in.

His father said he refuses to live in his OWN house. In Morocco he didn’t live in his own house and he won’t live in his own house here either. He would rather rent it out and use the money to rent an apartment from someone else. When he was asked why, he explained that when I live in a rented apartment and can be thrown out by the owner, then I feel that I’m just a temporary resident here in this world. If I would live in my OWN apartment I’m afraid that I may mistakenly think that this world is my permanent dwelling place.

There is another beautiful point from Rav Moishe Feinstein, ztl., that I like to say on Succos.

In Drash Moshe [p.221 and p.344-45] he discusses the great joy of “Simchas Beis Hashoeva-The Joy of Drawing Water.” On Succos they would start asking for the rains for the winter by pouring water  on the Mizbeach-Altar.

The Gemoro in Rosh Hashana  16a says, “Rabbi Yehuda says in the name of Rabbi Akiva, ‘Why does the Torah say….Pour water before Me on Succos?’ In order that there be a blessing in the rains of the year.”

Rav Moishe explains, “On Succos which is the time for asking for rain, and without rain things won’t grow and we would have G-D Forbid  famine, a poor man may wonder what can I do to help merit a rainy year? He cannot give much charity or sacrifices. Therefore Hashem said,” Pour water before Me on Succos,” this means that Hashem is saying , “I’m not asking much from you, only that it should be for the sake  of Heaven.” Hashem wants the heart as it says in the Gemoro Menachos 110a , “Whether one brings a lot or a little, as long as his heart is towards [Hashem in] Heaven.

Even water alone which is not worth anything, if you will but do a mitzvah for the sake of Heaven with it, Hashem will bless the rains of the year.”

Rav Moishe concludes, “This is the reason why there was so much joy by this mitzvah of pouring the water more than by all the other mitzvos of the Torah, because this encourages and teaches us that we can reach our perfection with what Hashem has granted us even without loss of money and without bother as long as whatever we do is for the sake of Hashem.

Even when one eats, drinks and has bodily pleasures, as long as he does it for the sake of Heaven it is a preparation for a Mitzvah and true perfection.”

This should be a big encouragement for all of us that Hashem only wants us to use our potential to its fullest, and not to underestimate our potential.

Another point that I like to say over on Succos is  an amazing observation about the relationship between Hashem and us that can be learned from  the mitzvah of sitting in the Succah.

In the Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 325 he writes about the root of sitting in a Succah,  “…That we should remember the great miracles that Hashem did for our fathers in the desert…and by remembering these great miracles…we shall be observant of His Mitzvos, and thereby be worthy of receiving goodness from Him. And this is His desire, that He wants to bestow goodness.

Now, we all understand that the normal order of things is that only when you need something done then you hire workers.

Consequently you have to pay them. Nobody is going to hire workers for something that he doesn’t need, just to pay them wages

Well, Hashem does! In His infinite mercy, He “hires” us [not because He needs us, but]  just to be able to pay our wages.

And when we sleep in the Succah, think about this wonderful opportunity. Anytime we sleep, which we need and enjoy, if we have the right intention to refresh our body to be able to serve Hashem then it’s a Mitzvah. On Succos we get a bonus mitzvah of also sleeping in the Succah.

 We also have to realize that Hashem gives us many easy opportunities to get tremendous reward, but we don’t realize it.

Imagine, a poor man goes door to door to collect money. At one house he gets a big surprise. The fellow recognizes him and asks him what happened with his $1million dollar gift that his Uncle gave him? Did he use it all up already? The poor man said that he didn’t know anything about it. The fellow tells him that his Uncle died apparently before he told him about the gift. But if he goes to a certain Bank he will find it waiting for him. The poor man goes and joyfully collects his new found wealth.

There is no way to describe the appreciation the poor man shows to his friend for revealing to him this wealth that he would not have known about.

I think the same thing applies to many Mitzvos which we don’t realize how valuable they are until somebody reveals their worth to us.

One example is answering Amen. There are many books on how important and valuable every Amen is.

I saw a beautiful story in a book called “Just One Word-Amen,” by Esther Stern, that reveals to us how valuable it really is.

A certain Doctor was raised in a totally assimilated family in a part of America that was totally devoid of Judaism. Nevertheless, he managed to become a Baal Teshuvah. When asked to explain what inspired him, he was happy to share this remarkable story.

Many years ago he was treating a terminally ill patient. His life was ebbing away. After discussing his case with a number of specialists, he offered the following option to the patient and his family.

His life might be lengthened for six months by a complicated surgery but it would be painful and costly. The patient said that this was not a decision that he could make on his own without consulting the great sage Rabbi Moishe Feinstein.

The doctor went with him to Rabbi Feinstien to personally explain to him the intricacies of the case, and he was also interested to see how the Rabbi would deal with the situation.

The Doctor said, “It was my first opportunity to consult a saintly Rabbi. I explained all the hardships. What followed will remain in my memory forever.

Rav Feinstein began to cry for almost twenty minutes. He was so moved by my patient’s plight despite the fact that he wasn’t a relative or a close disciple, only a disciple from many years ago. Finally he said that he needed another day to consider the difficult issue before making a decision.

The next day he greeted us warmly, and with confidence and equanimity assured the patient, ‘Go ahead and have the surgery. We will all pray on your behalf and ask Hashem to grant you many more healthy years.’ Rav Feinstein saw my skepticism so he told me, ‘In the half year reprieve the surgery will grant our friend, he will have the merit of answering Amen to many Berachos. Each Amen will create a guardian angel for him. These angels will defend him in the Heavenly court and he will be granted a long life in their merit.’ “

The Doctor finished his story by explaining that this encounter with the holy Tzadik struck a chord in his heart. Rav Feinstein well understood  the ordeal that the patient would have to undergo. Nevertheless, he felt that it would be all worthwhile so that the patient could live a little longer and be able to utter a few words! What is more, Rav Feinstein believed that these words could actually interfere with nature. At that moment the doctor realized that there must be something profound to Torah and Mitzvos.

In fact, the story concludes that the patient actually outlived the doctor’s grim prognosis by several years.

The gematria-numerical value of Amen-אמן is 91-the same as the word angel-מלאך. Just as Rav Feinstein said, “Every Amen creates a guardian angel.”

We must be deeply grateful for all these books that reveal to us our profound wealth that we didn’t know existed.

May Hashem help us to remember Him always and this will consequently lead us to keeping His Torah and Mitzvos. This will in turn make us worthy of receiving goodness from Him, which is His ultimate wish to bestow upon us goodness.

Have a Chag Kasher VeSameach


Rabbi Shlomo Price, a renowned lecturer and educator, is also a senior Rebbe at Neve Tzion. To receive his weekly Priceless Torah – please contact him at 

The Ins and Outs of Sukkah Observance Or Attending the Ailing and the Uncomfortable

September 20th, 2010 No comments

By Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: I am a medical resident who must be on hospital duty during Sukkos. May I eat full meals outside the sukkah, or must I restrict myself to eating snacks that do not require being in the sukkah? If I am able to eat in the sukkah while on duty, do I recite the bracha of leisheiv basukah?

Question #2: Our family has a rotation system so that someone is always with Bubbie. Should we have only female members with her during Sukkos so that the men can be in the sukkah?

Question #3: Zeidie is aging, and getting him to the sukkah is increasingly difficult. Is he required to eat his meals there on Sukkos? Assuming that he may eat indoors, must he eat in the sukkah on the first night of Yom Tov?


The proper observance of the mitzvah of sukkah is to treat the sukkah as one’s home for the entire seven days of Sukkos (Mishnah and Gemara Sukkah 28b). A person should not only eat all his meals in the sukkah, but he should sleep, relax, and entertain company in the sukkah (Sukkah 28b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 639:1). (Although in many places in chutz la’aretz people are not accustomed to sleeping in the sukkah because of safety, weather or personal concerns [see Rama 639:2], one should still arrange that he spend most of the day in the sukkah.) On the other hand, the mitzvah of sukkah is more lenient than other mitzvos of the Torah. For example, a mitzta’er, someone for whom being in the sukkah causes discomfort, is exempt from being in the sukkah (Sukkah 26a), as is someone ill (choleh) and his attendants (Mishnah Sukkah 25a). Thus, an aging Zeidie is probably exempt from sukkah, the same as someone who is ill.


 In commanding us concerning the mitzvah of sukkah, the Torah instructs: “You shall dwell (teishvu) in the Sukkah for seven days.” The Torah could just as easily have instructed “You shall be (tihyu) in the sukkah for seven days.” Why did the Torah use the word teishvu, dwell, rather than the word tihyu, be? Either term teishvu (dwell) or tihyu (be) implies that a person should use his sukkah as his primary residence through the Yom Tov! This is because the word teishvu implies something that tihyu does not: Teishvu implies that one is not required to use the sukkah in circumstances that one would not use one’s house the rest of the year (Tosafos Yom Tov, Sukkah 2:4). For example, a person whose house is very chilly will relocate temporarily to a warmer dwelling; if bees infest someone’s house, he will find alternative accommodations; if the roof leaks, one will find a dry location until it is repaired. Just as one evacuates one’s house when uncomfortable, so one may relocate from one’s sukkah when uncomfortable.


According to most poskim, illness does not excuse someone from observing a mitzvah unless it is potentially life-threatening (see Shu”t Rashba #238 and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 472:10, based on Gemara Nedarim 49b.) Moderate illness only exempts one from fulfilling the mitzvah of sukkah. Why is someone ill exempt for observing the mitzvah of sukkah? The poskim suggest several reasons why an ill person is exempt from mitzvas sukkah. I will present three approaches, and later in the article, some halachic differences that result:

I. Oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah — Preoccupation with one mitzvah exempts performance of a different mitzvah. Some contend that since halacha requires an ill person to devote himself to getting well, observing mitzvas sukkah conflicts with his need to take care of his health (Besamim Rosh #94). Thus, the principle of oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah, that someone busy fulfilling one mitzvah is absolved from observing a different mitzvah, exempts him from being in the sukkah. According to this reason, an ill person should be exempt from mitzvas sukkah only when it conflicts with his medical needs. On the other hand, this approach contends that an ill person is exempt from all positive mitzvos, such as eating matzoh or marror on Pesach, whenever fulfilling the mitzvah conflicts with his medical needs, even if they are certainly not life threatening (Binyan Shelomoh #47).

II. Mitzvos tzrichos kavanah – Observing mitzvos necessitates cognizance. Other authorities exempt an ill person from mitzvas sukkah for a different reason: One fulfills a mitzvah only when one focuses on performing the mitzvah. This concept is called mitzvos tzrichos kavanah, fulfilling a mitzvah requires cognizance that one is executing one’s obligation; without this awareness, one has not fulfilled his requirement to observe the mitzvah. Based on this background, the Taz (640:8) explains that since someone ill cannot focus on the fact that he is fulfilling mitzvas sukkah, it is impossible for him to observe the mitzvah. According to this approach, a sick person is exempt from sukkah even if his illness does not make it any harder to observe the mitzvah (Mikra’ei Kodesh 1:35).

III. Teishvu ke’ein taduru – You should dwell in the sukkah the same way one dwells at home. Many authorities contend that an ill person is exempt from mitzvas sukkah because of teishvu ke’ein taduru (Ritva, Sukkah 26a s.v. Pirtzah; Bartenura, Sukkah 2:4; Aruch Laneir, Sukkah 26a; Mishnah Berurah 640:6, quoting Rabbeinu Manoach). Since an ill person will relocate from his home to more appropriate accommodations, he may similarly abandon his sukkah for a more comfortable place (Mishnah Berurah 640:6).


 Thus far we have learned that two categories of people are exempt from sukkah (1) the ill and (2) someone suffering discomfort (mitzta’er). Although both these people are exempt from living in the sukkah, there is a major halachic distinction between them. The Mishnah (Sukkah 25a) teaches that not only is a sick person exempt from mitzvas sukkah, but even those taking care of him. However, someone assisting a person who is mitzta’er is required to fulfill the mitzvah. Thus, if a prominent person who always has people attending to him finds the sukkah too cold, he may complete his meal in the house, but those taking care of him must remain in the sukkah if they themselves are not suffering. Therefore, regarding the question asked above whether family members attending an elderly grandparent are excused from sukkah depends on whether the elderly person is considered ill, in which case the attendant is absolved from sukkah, or whether it is simply respectful that he or she not be left alone, in which case the male attendant must eat his meals in the sukkah.


The question is: If the Torah absolved both an ill person and a suffering person from mitzvas sukkah, why is one aiding the sufferer required to observe the mitzvah while one assisting the ill is exempt? (Aruch Laneir, Sukkah 26a). I have found two disputing approaches to explain this phenomenon, and their disagreement hinges on a question that we must first discuss: Why is someone taking care of the ill exempt from mitzvas sukkah? The authorities present two approaches to explain this phenomenon.

A. Teishvu ke’ein taduru – Dwell in the sukkah as you do in your home Some exempt the attendant from sukkah because of the law of teishvu ke’ein taduru — someone attending the ill does not pay attention to whether he remains in his own home or not. If he needs to attend to the ill, he leaves his house to attend to them. Therefore, since the Torah instructs us to treat the sukkah as we would our home and he leaves his home to attend the ill, he may leave his sukkah for the same purpose. However, someone attending to a suffering person does not change all his living arrangements to attend to the sufferer’s needs. Just as he limits how much time he spends away from his home to attend to the sufferer’s needs and then returns home, so he may not absolve himself from the mitzvah of sukkah (Aruch Laneir, Sukkah 26a).

B. Oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah – Preoccupation with one mitzvah preempts observing a different mitzvah. Other poskim exempt attendants to the ill from sukkah because of oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah, someone busy fulfilling one mitzvah is absolved from a different mitzvah. According to this approach, since attending the ill fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim, caring for the needs of the ill, performing this mitzvah exempts him from sukkah. However, one is not required to attend to the needs of someone who is mitzta’er and therefore his attendant is obligated to remain in the sukkah (L’vush, Orach Chayim 640).

Does any halachic difference result from this dispute? Perhaps. The Shulchan Aruch (640:3) rules that an attendant is exempt from eating in the sukkah only when the ill person needs him, but must return to the sukkah when his services are unnecessary. According to the approach of oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah, this decision is highly comprehensible since one is no longer oseik bemitzvah when he stops performing the mitzvah. However, if the attendant is exempt because of teishvu ke’ein taduru, it is difficult to explain why an attendant who is temporarily not needed must immediately return to the sukkah. Someone who is sleeping or eating indoors to escape rain is not required to reenter the sukkah immediately when the rain stops but may finish his meal or night’s sleep indoors (Gemara Sukkah 29a; Shulchan Aruch 639:6, 7). This is because a person who leaves his house because its roof leaks does not return in mid-meal or in the middle of the night when the roof repair is complete; he waits to complete his the meal or until morning before returning home. Similarly, someone outside the sukkah because of inclement weather that terminated may complete the activity before returning to the sukkah. Thus, the exemption of teishvu ke’ein taduru allows one to complete the meal or night’s sleep outside the sukkah. By this logic, someone attending to the ill outside the sukkah should be absolved from the mitzvah of sukkah even when the ill person does not need him, until he completes what he is doing. The Shulchan Aruch’s ruling requiring him to return to the sukkah as soon as his service is unnecessary implies that an attendant’s exemption is because of oseik bemitzvah and not because of teishvu ke’ein taduru.

We can now answer the first question raised above: May a medical resident on hospital duty during Sukkos eat full meals outside the sukkah? The answer is that he may eat full meals outside the sukkah as long as his services are necessary. If his services are temporarily not necessary, then it depends on the above-quoted dispute, and, per the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, he should restrict himself to eat snacks that do not require a sukkah.


Is a sufferer required to eat in the sukkah the first night of Sukkos? The Rama (640:4) concludes that although a mitzta’er is absolved from fulfilling mitzvas sukkah the rest of the week, he must nevertheless eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah the first night of Sukkos (see also Meiri, Sukkah 26a; Rama 639:5). Why must he eat in the sukkah this night if a mitzta’er is absolved from fulfilling mitzvas sukkah?

The answer is that there are two aspects to the mitzvah of sukkah. (1) The mitzvah to dwell in a sukkah all of Sukkos. However, one can theoretically avoid eating in the sukkah if one never eats a meal the entire holiday but survives on snacks that are exempt from the sukkah (Mishnah Sukkah 27a). (2) The requirement to eat in a sukkah the first night of the Yom Tov. We derive this requirement hermeneutically from the mitzvah of eating matzoh the first night of Pesach (Gemara Sukkah 27a). This mitzvah is an obligation — even if one chooses to not eat a meal all of Sukkos, he is still required to eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah the first night.

Many authorities contend that a halachic difference exists between these two mitzvos. Just as a mitzta’er is required to eat a kezayis of matzoh the first night of Pesach, so too a mitzta’er is required to eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah on the first night of Sukkos (Tur Orach Chayim 639). According to his opinion, the law of teishvu ke’ein taduru does not exempt eating in the sukkah the first night of Sukkos. Other Rishonim disagree, contending that the rules of teishvu ke’ein taduru apply on the first night just as they apply the rest of the week (Shu”t Rashba, quoted by Beis Yosef). Ashkenazim consider this to be an unresolved halachic issue; therefore if it rains the first night we eat at least a kezayis of bread in the sukkah but do not recite a bracha leisheiv basukah (consensus of most Acharonim, see Mishnah Berurah 639:35). Sefardim should ask their rav what to do, since Sefardic poskim dispute whether they are obligated to eat in the sukkah the first night of Yom Tov under these circumstances.


 Is a sick person required to eat the first night in the sukkah? This should depend on the reasons mentioned earlier. If an ill person is exempt because he is considered oseik bemitzvah, then he is also exempt the first night. Similarly, if he is exempt because of mitzvos tzrichos kavanah — illness distracts his ability to focus and thereby fulfill the mitzvah — he is also exempt from the mitzvah. However, if his exemption is because of teishvu ke’ein taduru, Ashkenazic practice will obligate him to eat a kezayis in the sukkah, albeit without reciting a bracha. Thus, whether Zeidie of Question #3 above is required to eat in the sukkah on the first night of Yom Tov is dependent on this dispute. (See the Ben Ish Chai, Haazinu #12 who rules that he is obligated to eat in the sukkah.)


What about someone attending the ill? Is he required to eat in the sukkah the first night of Yom Tov? Again, let us examine why an attendant is exempt from the mitzvah. I cited above two approaches: (1) Teishvu ke’ein taduru. (2) Oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah. If one assumes that the attendant is patur because of teishvu ke’ein taduru, and we rule that these exemptions do not apply on the first night of Sukkos, then the attendant is obligated to eat at least a kezayis of bread in the sukkah (Aruch Laneir, Sukkah 26a). However, if the attendant is exempt because he is oseik bemitzvah, he is not obligated (see Eliyah Rabbah 640:8).


According to those who exempt an attendant from Sukkah because of oseik bemitzvah, does he recite a bracha if he chooses to eat in the sukkah? This question will directly affect the medical resident who asked: “If I am able to eat in the sukkah while on duty, do I recite the bracha of leisheiv basukah when doing so?” The question is whether someone performing a mitzvah when absolved because of oseik bemitzvah fulfills the mitzvah. There is another case affected by this issue. If the resident eats in the sukkah while he is attending an ill person (and he is patur from the mitzvah), and later in the evening someone relieves him from duty – is he now required to eat a kezayis in the sukkah since at the time he fulfilled the mitzvah he was not obligated? Most poskim rule that someone who is oseik in a different mitzvah and observes the other mitzvah fulfilled his obligation; thus, he is not required to eat another kezayis in the sukkah later (Shu”t Rama MiFanu #102; Shaar HaTziyun 475:39; Oneg Yom Tov #41). However, Shu”t Ksav Sofer (Orach Chayim #99 s.v. vi’ayein) contends that he is not yotzei and must eat another kezayis. In all of the above cases, I advise a reader with the shaylah to ask his rav for a definitive ruling.

May we all celebrate the upcoming Yom Tov and Mitzvos in the best of health!


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Judgement Day – The Meaning of It All

September 16th, 2010 No comments

by R’ Binyomin Radner

The Gemara in Rosh Hashana 16B states that three books are open on Rosh Hashana . That of the completely righteous, the completely evil, and the half- and-half. The completely righteous are written and sealed immediately in the book of life. The completely wicked are written and sealed immediately in the book of death. The half- and- half are undecided until Yom Kippur. If they are found to be worthy at that time, they are sealed for life. If not, they are sealed for death.

Rashi and Tosfos both understand “completely righteous” to refer to one who has a majority of merits and “completely wicked” to refer to one who has a majority of sins. The obvious problem that many of the commentators deal with is that very many times, as we see, righteous people suffer and wicked people prosper. How are we to practically understand the Gemara telling us that on Rosh Hashana it is decreed that the righteous people live and that the wicked people die??

Tosfos answer that the Talmud’s mention of the “death of the wicked” and the “life of the righteous” actually refers to the afterlife in the world-to-come. The judgement on Rosh Hashana effects the world-to-come and not this world.

Of course this begs explanation as well: How are we to understand that the judgment of Rosh Hashana is actually a judgment on the world-to-come?

The Ran argues on Tosfos (according to the Gra’s understanding of the Ran) that the judgment of Rosh Hashana is, in fact, a judgment on “this world”. And the term “completely righteous” does not mean completely righteous in reality. Rather, in this specific judgment they are labeled “completely righteous”. Meaning, Hashem wishes to reward the wicked in this world for the little bit of good they have done in order that He may exact retribution from them in the world-to-come. In this regard, Hashem treats the wicked like they are righteous, specifically in this world. And so it is in the reverse. The truly righteous get treated as if they are wicked in this world, in order that they may be punished for the little bit of bad that they did so that they will get their full reward in the world-to-come.

The Ramban writes a similar approach to the Ran in the Sefer Shaar Hagmul that the judgement of Rosh Hashana is definitely on this world, and not on the world-to-come. He is adamant about this and brings many proofs as such.

The Chinuch has a different approach from the Ran and from Tosfos. In Mitzvah #311 the Chinuch writes that the Talmud is to be understood literally: “Completely righteous” and “completely evil” is as it sounds and is not referring to a majority of mitzvos or a majority of aveiros. This could possibly explain why it happens that the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. They are not completely righteous nor completely evil, but somewhere in the middle. Thus, it is implicit in the Chinuch that one who does not fall into one of these two categories would fall into the other category of “beinunim” . His status remains undecided until Yom Kippur.

We could possibly take this one step further and say that according to the understanding of the Chinuch, most people would fall under the category of “beinunim” since most people are neither completely righteous nor completely evil. However, according to the understanding of Rashi and Tosfos, one who has a majority of mitzvos is labeled completely righteous and one with a majority of aveiros is labeled completely wicked.

The Sefer Sifsai Chayim page 102 points out that the Talmud writes even before this passage on the previous page (16A) a blanket statement that all people are judged on Rosh Hashana and their judgment is sealed on Yom Kippur. There, the Talmud does not differentiate between the different categories. This would seem to contradict the above-quoted passage that people are divided into three categories.

The Sifsai Chayim answers that on Rosh Hashana there are actually two judgments: One is on this world and one is on the world-to-come. He explains with a mashal. In the courts of the world, first it is decided whether one is innocent or guilty. Afterwards, if he is guilty, his punishment is meted out in the sentencing. So it is with the judgment of Rosh Hashana. The first judgment is on which category one will be placed in: Righteous, wicked, or middle. This is the judgment of the next world. Meaning, a person is being labeled and placed according to his spiritual status. For example, the Talmud in many places discusses what a “ben olam haba” is. This does not mean that he is living in olam haba right now. Rather, he is labeled a ben olam haba based on his actions, decisions, fear of G-d etc. This is the first part of judgment. Is the person a ben olam haba, a ben olam hazeh, or somewhere in the middle? Then, based on the spiritual status of a person (or lack thereof,) it is decided what will happen to him. Thus, all of the olam-hazeh-related matters are decided and “sentenced” based on one’s olam-haba-related status.

With this insight of the Sifsai Chayim, perhaps these two passages in the Gemara no longer seem contradictory, since there are actually 2 judgements taking place on Rosh Hashana. Furthermore, we can understand what Tosfos mean when they mention olam-haba-related judgment and how it very much effects olam-hazeh.

The Mishnas Reb Ahron Page 181 sheds more light upon this: He writes that the status of a person in olam-haba will be practically reflective in the amount of siyata dishmaya one will receive throughout the year to protect and further his spiritual state. As we find, Chazal say מלגלין זכות על ידי זכאי וחובה על ידי חייב”". Heaven arranges that good things “happen to come” through deserving people and bad things “happens to come” through liable people. On Rosh Hashana, first it is decided whether a person is meritorious or liable. Then, based on his meritorious or liable status, it is then decided whether good things will be done through him or bad things will be done through him. This could also be a practical example of how judgment on spiritual status affects a person’s everyday life and all of the seemingly coincidental events that transpire in a person’s life throughout the year.

May we all merit to be written and sealed in the book of life for all judgements.


The author can be reached at

Dip the Apple (and the Challah) in The Honey

September 12th, 2010 1 comment

By Rabbi Richard Jacobs

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are full of customs
which on the surface seem pretty strange; for example,
casting our sins into the water on Rosh
Hashana (Tashlich) and the atonement ritual of
Kaparot on the day preceding Yom Kippur.
Dipping an apple in honey is so well known it is now
synonymous with Rosh Hashana greetings cards and it is
no less strange than either Tashlich or Kaparot. An apple
dipped in honey is one of the symbolic foods that we eat
on the first night of Rosh Hashana. We return from our
evening prayers to find the Yom Tov table not yet laden
with a sumptuous Yom Tov meal. Instead it is covered with
“delectable delights”, including apples and honey, fenugreek,
leek, beets, dates, gourd, pomegranate, fish and in
pride of place the head of a fish (or if you are really lucky
a head of lamb).
After Kiddush and Challah (also honey dipped), yet before
the meal proper, we embark on what can only be described
as a tantalizing taste sensation, eating a morsel
from each dish preceded by a short (and equally puzzling)
prayer. For example: on eating the apple in honey we say
“May it be Your will …that You renew us for a good and
sweet New Year”; on eating the pomegranate we sat “May
it be Your will…that our merits increase as (the seeds of) a
pomegranate”; and on eating the fish we state “May it be
Your will … that we be fruitful and multiply like fish”1.
What is the point of this exercise? Do we really think
that eating an apple in honey will cause us to have a sweet
new year? That eating pomegranate will cause our merits
to increase? Or that eating fish will cause us to have more
Yet our Sages tell us that “Simanim milsa he”2 – these
symbols are significant. To understand we need to look a
bit deeper.
The Rema in the laws of Rosh Hashana3 tells us that
there are those that are careful not to eat nuts on RoshHashana3. One of the reasons he gives is that the Hebrew
word for nut (egoz) has the same numerical value (gematria4)
as the Hebrew word of sin (chet)5. From this we can
see how far we are supposed to distance ourselves from
even the hint of sin on Rosh Hashana. The Kotsker Rebbe,
with his customary wit, points out not to forget that sin
also has the numerical value as the word sin — for sure it
is more important for us to distance ourselves from committing
a sin rather than just refraining from eating nuts.
These symbols are significant when they come to stir us
to strengthen our emunah, our faith. By eating these foods
and, more importantly, by saying these short prayers, we
fill ourselves with positive will and inspire ourselves to improve
our deeds. It is our responsibility not to only keep
the bathwater, but also to ensure that we do not lose the
deeper meaning of this curious custom.
Each symbol also has its own deeper meaning. One of
my favorite explanations of the custom to dip the apple in
honey is that of the Bnei Yissasschar.
A highlight of the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services
is the prayer of “Unesaneh Tokef”. At the climax of the
prayer the congregation call out in unison, “U’teshuva (and
repentance), u’tefillah (and prayer), u’tzedakeh (and charity)
ma’avirin et roa hagzeira” (remove the evil of the decree!).
Above the words “U’teshuva u’tefillah u’tzedakeh” are written
another three words Tsom (fast), Kol (voice) and Mamon
(money). These three words indicate the means with
which we can achieve repentance, prayer and charity.
The Bnei Yissasschar points out that each of these words
has the numerical value of 136, in total 408 6. Apple, tapuach
in Hebrew is spelt taf + peh + vav + chet. The outer letters
have the numerical value of 408 7 while the inner two
letters have the value of 86, which is the equivalent of the
name of G-d that represents Judgement8. Rosh Hashana
is the Day of Judgement when we are judged for our actions.
The word for honey in Hebrew is D’vash, which has
the same numerical value as Av Harachamim – Merciful Father9.
Dipping the apple in the honey hints to us the way
which we can successful turn this Day of Judgment into a
merciful one – by repenting, praying and giving charity.
Wishing you a sweet New Year.

1. The full text can be found in the ArtScroll Rosh Hashana Machzor
page 96
2. Horayos 12a, Kerisus 6a
3. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 584:2
4. Each of the letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet has an equivalent numerical
value. A Gematria is the sum of the values of all the letters in each
word. On occasion an additional 1 is added for the word as a whole.
Our Sages often link and draw connections between words and phrases
with the same numerical value.
5. Aleph (1) + gimmel (3) + vav (6) + zayin (7) + 1 (for the word) = 18
= chet (8) + tet (9) + aleph (1)
6. Tzadi (90) + vav (6) + mem (40) = 136
Kuf (100) +vav (6) + lamed (30) = 136
Mem (40) + mem (40) + vav (6) + nun (50) = 136
The sum total is 408
7. Taf (400) + chet (8) = 408
8. Peh (80) + vav (6) = 86 = aleph (1) + lamed (30) + heh (5) + yud (10)
+ mem (40)
9. Daled (4) + beit (2) + shin (300) = 306 = aleph (1) + beit (2) + heh (5)
+ resh (200) + chet (8) + mem (40) + yud (10) + mem (40)

Rabbi Jacobs is the Executive Director of the Ohr Lagolah Hertz Institute for International Teacher Training, an affiliate of Ohr Somayach Institutions. He can be reached at
This article was copied with permission from the Ohr Somayach Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur Handbook, which is still available online at


[Editor's note: by Rabbi Y. Spitz - While this is an excellent explanation for why we dip apples in honey, it still leaves room to explain why it's also customary to dip challah in honey. I recently saw an outstanding pshat in Rabbi Shmuel Brazil's new sefer, "Bishvili Nivra HaOlam" - page 43 -44:

He cites the famous Rabbenu Yona in Brachos (36) quoting Rabbenu Meir HaLevi that if a piece of non-kosher food falls into a batch of honey, then over time the honey will dissolve the non-kosher substance until absolutely nothing remains of it, not even a trace , and eventually it will be permissable to eat of it. The Chofetz Chaim in his preface to Lekutai Halachos also quotes this as proof that just as honey has the ability to transform the natural state of another, so too The Torah has the strength to change a person's natural state from Rasha to Tzaddik

Rabbi Brazil continues that the gematria of the word  devash (honey) is equal to that of the word Isha (woman) -ד+ב+ש=4+2+300=306.א+ש+ה+1+300+5. This is as Chazal tell us (Bereishis Rabbah 17,7)  that the wife has the ability to change the natural state of her husband - for the better or for the worse. [This is also why, according to some commentaries why Yaakov was punished for hiding Dina from Eisav]. He then brings several more proofs to this idea - about the power of honey to affect change in other items.

He then refers to the idea of Challah symbolizing  Man – for the mitzvah of taking challah – especially on Erev Shabbos – is counted as  a woman’s personal mitzvah – to help rectify Chava’s sin of enticing Adam to sin (on Erev Shabbos) -and thereby ruining Man’s potential – for Adam was called “Challaso shel Olam“.

Utilizing these concepts helps clarify our minhag – For every Jew’s goal during the period of Yomim Nora’im is to try to show Hashem that we are trying to change our wayward ways, as well as ourselves to be proper Ovdei Hashem. Therefore, by dipping the Challah in the honey we are symbolizing our heart’s request – that we take ourselves (symbolized by the challah) and try to change (symbolized by the honey’s inherent abilities) for the better.

Wishing everyone a Kesiva v’chasima Tova!]

Shana Tova U’Mesuka

September 12th, 2010 No comments

by Daniel Freedman

On the first of the month, which is really the seventh month of the year
We crown the King of all Kings which today is abundantly clear
That all our actions, yes, every last one
can be changed to serve Him, though the year’s almost done
Its not about sin, and the past, but rather a leap forward, a positive start
to set our goals, our vision for the new year, which now stands afresh, and apart
which is why we dip our challah in honey, oh so sweet
the challah our work, the honey our desire for our own song to have a new beat
You see, just like Torah, that can change our whole life
the honey itself, can do the same, and absorb all our strife
So when the apple that represents judgment is dipped in the honey which symbolizes mercy
We pray and ask that our year is completely transformed into one that is sweety

Likutei Halachos of the Chofetz Chaim
Bnei Yissaschar on Apple and honey
Rosh Hashana Davening\


The author can be reached at

Worms in Fish

August 15th, 2010 No comments


 By Rabbi Mordechai Kuber

 Introduction – Shulchan Aruch (YD 84:16) prohibits intestinal worms, because they might originate outside the fish, but permits flesh worms, because they form in the permitted fish flesh.  Scientific research has long discredited SG (spontaneous generation), thereby casting the permissibility of flesh worms in doubt.  Many Poskim resolve this conflict by saying that worms appear to originate in the flesh, but that they actually begin in microscopic size outside the fish, but develop to visible, halachically relevant form only within the flesh.  Other Poskim, mainly in Eretz Yisrael, are not at all perturbed by this scientific rejection of SG, preferring instead Chazal’s literal word.

 Those who reinterpret SG confront numerous difficulties, as the microscopic-to-visible theory must clear numerous scientific and halachic hurdles.  Those who accept SG do not face any of these difficulties, but they nevertheless cannot permit worms that have been demonstrated to arrive in the flesh not through SG, but through invasion.  There are those who claim that the ubiquitous anisakis is such a worm, and is therefore prohibited.

 In this article, we present and discuss the difficulties confronting those who both reject SG and permit anisakis, and discuss the evidence presented that anisakis is invasive.

 This author publicly acknowledges that he is not a Poseik for Klal Yisrael.  His intention is only to acquaint readers with the issues, and to foster mature discussion.  In the final analysis, we follow the rulings of our Gedolim and Poskim.

 Difficulties with Applying Microscopic-to-Visible Theory – Applied to fish worms, this theory adopts the scientifically documented life cycle of internal fish parasites: microscopic larvae are ingested by crustaceans, which are subsequently ingested by the host fish; the larvae then migrate from the stomach to the flesh, where they develop and appear to have spontaneously generated.

 We presume the details to be roughly similar for all flesh worms, and therefore we discuss only the one most thoroughly researched.  Anisakis, when it hatches on the ocean floor, is 14-20 microns wide.  Some claim that the nascent worm is indiscernible by the human eye because of its narrowness.  Others note that it is as wide as angora hair and retinal stitches, which are both visible.  If anisakis is visible at this stage, and such external worms are confirmed as the source of fish-flesh infestation, then flesh worms must be prohibited.  Some counter that we may disregard the borderline visibility of hatched anisakis, and all the other difficulties we are about to present, because all this occurs in submarine secrecy, out of range of our detection.  Since we first discover the worms only within the flesh, we may presume that they originated there, regardless of how they actually arrived.  This approach is flawed, as the Gemara states that intestinal worms are prohibited because they are really outside trans-nostril invaders.  Thus, we are concerned about worms’ origins, even if their development and travels are shielded from view.  Therefore, if anisakis are visually discernible from the time of their hatching, they are certainly prohibited.

 Even if hatched anisakis are invisible, this theory must address the growth of the larvae to visible stage within the prohibited crustacean.  There is no explicit ruling concerning this, and the law seems to be disputed.  In addition, we would need to say that the transfer of the larva from the crustacean to the host fish is not considered as if the worm left its growth environment, for then it would be prohibited, even if it were permitted up to that point.  We would need to distinguish between these worms and a worm that develops within post-harvest fruit and crawls out, directly into another picked fruit.  In the latter case, we rule stringently, even though the worm never was exposed to the outside.  In this case, we would have to say that the host fish is also considered a growing environment, for the larva continues to develop there.

 We have still not cleared all the hurdles, even if the larvae have survived the triple challenge of their initial visibility, their development within prohibited crustaceans, and their transfer out of their growth environment to the host fish.  We still need to allow for their migration from the intestines to the flesh, while simultaneously claiming that other, prohibited larvae that could reside in the stomach cannot likewise pierce the intestinal wall.  This is obviously an untenable argument.

 Finally, a Gadol Hador has reputedly absolutely rejected the microscopic-to-visible theory.  He rules that even if larva is microscopic at the time of migration or initial ingestion, its visible, grown form is prohibited, since it developed from a migratory source.

 In summary, proponents of outside origin of permissible fish-flesh worms face significant challenges to their theory.

 The Migratory Evidence – As we mentioned in the introduction, worms that originate outside the fish are prohibited, even if we have not rejected SG.  Some have presented four proofs that flesh anisakis are migratory, and do not originate in the flesh.  First, identical anisakis are found in proximate abundance in the fishes’ stomachs.  Second, tunnels connect the worm-sites to the stomachs.  Third, worms seem less predominant in farmed fish, suggesting that worm-infested ocean waters are the external cause of flesh infestation.  Fourth, and finally, worms are more prevalent in the belly flaps and abdominal walls of fish, suggesting that this disparity of distribution results from the proximate source of the intestinal worms.

 Before we discuss these proofs, we mention that the current round of questioning the halachic status of flesh-worms was sparked by noticing migration from the peritoneum (abdominal-wall membrane) to the flesh underneath.  This membrane adheres to the muscle, and is not attached to the digestive tract.  There is no physical reason to classify it as part of the intestines.  In addition, there is no precedent in Halachah to prohibit the worms in this membrane; the worms there should be as permitted as are those in the flesh.  Hence, the worms observed to migrate are permitted worms, and there was never any cause for alarm!

 We now refute all four proofs.  First, proximity of intestinal anisakis does not compromise the ability of flesh to develop anisakis on its own, and therefore does not at all imply that the flesh worms are invaders.  Intestinal worms also developed within a fish or crustacean, and moved to their new, visceral home after the demise or ingestion of their former host.  Thus, there is no reason for the presence of intestinal worms to cast aspersion on the internally developing nature of their flesh-resident neighbors.  As an analogy, consider a farmer who purchases a few bushels of wheat at a roadside stand, and then dumps them between the rows of his wheat field.  Would it make any sense to suggest that the dumped wheat has not grown in a field, and then to continue along this faulty line of reasoning and conclude that the waves of grain have been transplanted?  Certainly not!  Likewise, the presence of ingested intestinal anisakis should not generate any suspicion at all about the native origins of the identical flesh worms.

 In addition, Pri Chadash (84:45) prohibits fish-liver worms because they invade through the nostrils, but does not seem concerned that abutting, intestinal worms might have infected the liver.  It seems that Pri Chadash is convinced that intestinal worms pose no migratory threat.  We also note that Pri Megadim (Sif’sei Daas 84:43) and others comment that intestinal worms are not certainly prohibited, but only out of doubt that they might have arrived from the outside.  It is likewise possible that they developed internally, as is the case with flesh worms.  So why should we be concerned about the presence of stomach worms, which might well have developed internally and be permitted?  We cannot permit them, because we are not certain, but that doubt should not foster speculation about possible migration of these unverified invaders.

 Regarding the second proof, we question the authenticity of the study that discovered these connecting tunnels.  How many worms were identified, and how many of them had tunnels connecting their location to the stomachs?  Apparently, not all worms, and not all fish, had connecting tunnels.  This author has observed worms without connecting tunnels.  The study seems inconclusive.  But even presuming that its observations are sound, we question its directional conclusions.  How do we know that these tunnels are evidence of migration from the stomach to the flesh?  Perhaps they are evidence of the opposite – of worms migrating from the flesh to the stomach!  

 Rav Yisrael Isserlin (Hagahos Shaarei Dura §47) says exactly this.  He permits white shwibrin worms that we observe burrowing from the surface deep into the flesh of fish, for we are certain that they originate within the fish flesh.  Rav Isserlin understands that even when we witness penetration of these worms, we may presume that they were originally internal, since we often find them in the flesh, and are therefore aware that they develop within the flesh.  Rav Isserlin is not concerned that these burrowing worms are originally external, and hence prohibited.  We presume that flesh worms developed internally, even when the possibility of external penetration is present!

 The third proof of migration seems more credible, for what else could account for the noticeably lesser incidence of infestation in farmed fish than in wild fish?  We could propose, with some lack of conviction, that controlled farm conditions are less conducive to worm generation than are the wild, polluted waters of the oceans.  Instead, we note with greater conviction that this proof is predicated on inconclusive and paltry evidence.  There seems to be no more than one publicly available scientific study, from 1989, that makes the case for the lack of incidence of anisakis in farmed fish relative to the abundance of its incidence in wild fish.  It discusses only salmon, comparing the zero incidence of anisakis in penned salmon, which are harvested at the age of only a year, to the abundance of infection found in wild salmon, which are caught as they return to spawn.  Thus, the study compares young, pampered fish to fish that have traveled thousands of miles and are hours away from death.  There is no question that the flesh of the older, more weary fish is much more susceptible to decay and worm generation than is that of the sprightly juniors.

 Finally, the fourth proof is the easiest to brand as presumptuous, because it could well be that the belly flaps and abdominal walls are more accommodating to worm generation than are other locations.  In a vacuum, stomach proximity might cause us to postulate about migration, but it is far from compelling enough to begin to challenge the universality of the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling.

 Arguments For and Against Permitting Flesh Anisakis

 Shulchan Aruch does not confine his ruling to a specific type of worm.  Therefore, if the possibility exists that other worms, possessing migratory capabilities, are prohibited, his blanket permissive ruling is unconscionably and irresponsibly misleading.  Rather, his unqualified ruling proves that migration is impossible.  Nevertheless, some Poskim claim that Shulchan Aruch discusses only worms known to him, all of which were not migratory, and not contemporary anisakis, whose migratory nature has been verified to their satisfaction.

 Some argue that modern-day catching and delivery methods allow fish to remain ungutted for much longer than in centuries, or even in decades, gone by.  Therefore, although Shulchan Aruch rules that we may presume that freshly caught fish could not have migratory worms in its flesh, we cannot safely presume the same for fish caught days ago.  We note that in Talmudic days, fishermen brought their ungutted fish to the market, sometimes a day or two after the catch (see Beitzah 24b and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 515).  So if Chazal were not concerned about post-catch migration even if fish were left unrefrigerated and ungutted two days after the catch, why should we be concerned about it nowadays if fish is left ungutted for a few hours, and refrigerated throughout?

 Some invoke the force of tradition: since the codifying of the Talmud, no one has discussed today’s state of infestation where both the stomach and flesh are infested.  They posit that it is unreasonable to presume that such tandem infestation was never reached throughout the millennia.  Rather, there were certainly many incidences of such infestation, yet none of our sages of years gone by felt that the presence of nearby stomach worms negatively affects the permissibility of the flesh worms.

Others suggest that we cannot escape the attestation of the scientists that anisakis originate outside the fish, and migrate to the flesh from the intestines after they are ingested.  We reject this view, as scientists cannot be the arbiters of post-Talmudic change.  They cannot be objective, since they do not believe that worms could form within fish flesh on their own.  Consequently, they believe that anisakis must migrate to the flesh from the stomach, and they will perforce misconstrue and ignore all contrary evidence, or rush to their preconceived migratory conclusions without convincing evidence of such.  Thus, the conclusions of the scientific papers presented should be judged as presumptuous at best, and fraudulent at worst.

We also note that even the scientists are quite unclear about the source of the flesh worms.  The CDC (Center for Disease Control) states unequivocally that intestinal worms migrate to the flesh only after the host fish dies.  They are not discussing migration after the catch, but migration when fish die in the open waters and wait a while before being ingested by larger fish.  Thus, the scientists admit that contemporary worms cannot pierce the abdominal wall during a fish’s lifetime.  Accordingly, they would be perplexed when asked to explain the presence of flesh worms that clearly did not migrate there in the short time between catch and gutting.  Thus, even scientific theory points away from migration!

We also note that if intestine-piercing migration does occur, we would expect to find intestinal ulcers, and we do not. 

 We conclude with one halachic argument.  Rav Yitzchak of Dura (Shaarei Dura §47 and §52) rules that we must prohibit all flesh worms, since trans-nostril invasion is possible.  Although they may well have internally generated, these natives would not be distinguishable from immigrants, and thus we must prohibit all worms.  Shulchan Aruch rejects Rav Dura’s minority ruling, but we remain with an important lesson.  If concern about the possibility of invasion trumps the universality of internal sourcing, then we must prohibit every flesh worm, without exception.  There is no acceptable middle ground.  Hence, claiming that we must be mindful of possible invasion is tantamount to completely rejecting Shulchan Aruch!

 May all our actions, including eating fish and pondering the halachic status of its worms, bring glory to the sacred name of HaShem.


Due to publication constraints, this is an abridged and modified version of the original article.  For the complete version, which includes a comprehensive analysis of the Gemara and relevant Rishonim, please contact the author at


Rabbi Mordechai Kuber, Rav of Beis Medrash Nachlas Tzvi Ohel Avraham in Telzstone, Israel,  is a world renowned kashrus expert and educator. He can be reached at

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