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December 20, 2014 / 28 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Yaakov Klass’

Q & A: On Yotzrot (Part I)

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Question: I read The Jewish Press’s Luach of February 17 with much interest. You write, “We daven Shacharis as usual.” I find it difficult to understand why you don’t mention reciting the special yotzrot for Parshat Shekolim. Are yotzrot a relic of history? I’m a senior citizen who remembers saying yotzrot as a child. But now, they seem to have disappeared from Orthodox synagogues.

Milton M. Adler,
Cherry Hill, NJ

Answer: You are very keen in noting my omission and quite correct in your observation. Indeed, yotzrot seem to have disappeared from the synagogue liturgy in many congregations nowadays. Later on we will address why they seem to have fallen by the wayside. Please be aware, though, that in many Ashkenazic synagogues, especially chassidic ones, the practice of reciting yotzrot is very much alive.

The term yotzrot refers to a grouping of special prayers that all fall under the same heading, and are also referred to as piyutim. Rabbi Yosef Grossman discusses this topic at length in his masterful work “Otzar Erchei Ha’Yahadut” ot peh, 377). He writes: “Piyut – these are prayers, poetic refrains, or sanctified songs that entered the liturgy of our special machzorim for festivals and special occasions, for the Days of Awe, as well as those solemn fast days that mark our national tragedies.”

The authors of these prayers were gedolei Yisrael, some of whom hail to the period of the geonim in Babylonia. Many of these authors led their congregation in prayer and were able to captivate and stir the hearts of Jews in a unique fashion. They were especially able to strengthen and uplift the spirit of the nation mired in its lengthy and difficult exile during times of distress and tragedy. These heartfelt compositions ably lifted our people’s souls and raised their spirits, renewing hope.

The compositions were based mainly on the words of our sages as found in the Talmud and Midrashim, and contain words of rebuke, reproof, lamentations, and yearning regarding the destruction of our Temple and the exile of the Divine Presence. For the most part, these all reach their crescendo with words of comfort and hope for the future redemption and salvation.

Many of these piyutim were composed in rhyming verse following the pattern of the Hebrew alphabet. They were gathered, and certain prayers took root. Recital remained voluntary and non-binding. In fact, some of the geonim opposed reciting piyutim. One will not find any of them, for example, in the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon (the very oldest siddur we posses). Nevertheless, the majority of the geonim did not try to separate the people from these beloved piyutim.

Indeed, some of these piyutim are so stirring due to their style and diction that they were ultimately considered worthy in the eyes of the geonim. Therefore, over time, their recital became sanctified, and more were written as well. We actually find many piyutim in the siddur of Rabbenu Sa’adiah Gaon and the Machzor Vitry (and many other works as well).

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

Q & A: Tu B’Shevat: The Hidden, The Revealed

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Question: Why is Tu B’Shevat, known as the New Year for Trees, in the middle of the month and not at the beginning of the month – like all other New Years?

Pesach Bernstein
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The first mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashanah lists the various New Years. Each of them, like you write, falls on the first of the month except for Tu B’Shevat.

There are exceptions, however. For example, the Gemara (ibid., 4a) asks regarding the New Year for festivals (which is also used to reckon the years of a king’s reign): “How can the New Year for the festivals be on the first of Nissan, when surely it is on the 15th of Nissan?” The Gemara answers that the mishnah means to say that the festival, Pesach, that occurs in the first month of the year marks the New Year for festivals. The New Year itself, though, starts on the 15th.

Two additional New Years – not enumerated in our mishnah – also do not fall on the first of the month. The New Year relating to the omer – the sacrifice that permitted one to partake of newly harvested grains of the five species throughout the land – occurs on the 16th of Nissan, and the New Year for the shetei halechem (two loaves) – permitting the use of flour from newly harvested grains for meal-offerings in the Beit Hamikdash – occurs on the 6th of Sivan. The Gemara explains that the mishnah does not list these two New Years because they start during the day rather than the previous night.

Thus, we see that Tu B’Shevat is not that unique. However, perhaps it appears to be so because it is the only New Year listed in the mishnah that does not occur on the first of the month (in some sense of the word) according to Beit Hillel, whose ruling we follow. Beit Hillel states that sufficient rain has fallen by the 15th of Shevat, enabling trees to blossom. We therefore set the New Year for trees at that point.

For a more esoteric understanding of the significance of the 15th of Shevat as the New Year for trees, we turn to the author of the chassidic work, Ohev Yisrael by Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta, who discusses this matter. We glean from his words:

“Regarding Tu B’Shevat, we must know and understand why it is stated specifically there (in the mishnah), ‘The New Year of the Tree, according to Beit Hillel, is on the 15th of Shevat, while according to Beit Shammai it is on the first of Shevat.’ It is also important to understand the reference to ‘tree’ in the singular, when it should have stated [the New Year of the] Trees, in the plural.

“We must answer that it states in the Torah (Deuteronomy 20:19), ‘For man is the tree of the field.’ [Here the author is alluding to the interpretation in Gemara Ta’anit 7a.] Just as the tree possesses roots, branches, leaves and fruit, so does the Jew possess all these because of his good deeds. How are these drawn to man? They stem from their source, the root of the Jewish soul, which is the Holy Tree – the Tree of Life under which all Creation’s animals and birds of the skies seek shelter. It is the tree that is blessed so that all its shoots are like it.

“The word ilan [tree in Hebrew] is numerically equivalent to the two Holy Names, Havaya and Adnut (their combined total is 91). This is in accordance with the hidden meaning of ‘Tzaddik katamar yifrach – A righteous man shall blossom as the date tree…’ (Psalms 93:13). Just as the palm tree has the means of propagating itself, so, too, do the righteous bring forth those that will propagate themselves.”

Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel continues with a citation from Tractate Rosh Hashanah (10b-11a). R. Yehoshua claims the world was created in Nissan, but R. Eliezer argues it was created in Tishrei. (These two months both launch the beginning of a different half of the year.) Rabbi Heschel points out that both these statements are “the living words of G-d” – both are true in some sense. He explains: “On [the first of] Tishrei the thought came to His mind to create the world, as the paytan notes [in our Rosh Hashanah liturgy], ‘Hayom harat olam – Today You have conceived the world.’ However, the actual creation was in Nissan.”

He then offers a lengthy explanation, comparing the tree to the original Creation by presenting the month of Shevat as a microcosm of the 12 months of the year and dividing Shevat into two parts. He compares the first half of the month to the conception of trees – the part of creation that is hidden. This is actually the essence of Beit Shammai‘s opinion, whose rulings hold sway in the Heavenly Court. Beit Hillel, on the other hand, represents that which is revealed – like the blossoming of trees. For the most part, blossoms appear on the first day of the second half of the month – Tu B’Shevat.

Q & A: Tying Knots On Shabbat (Part II)

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Question: My son recently stopped wearing a necktie and lace-up shoes on Shabbat. He explained that he doesn’t want to transgress the prohibition against tying knots on Shabbat. Is tying a necktie or shoelaces really forbidden?

“A Mother in Israel” (Via E-Mail)

Answer: The proximity of the mitzvah to rest and refrain from work on Shabbat to the description in Parshat Vayakhel of the construction of the Mishkan teaches us (says Rashi, citing the Mechilta) that the 39 melachot used for the Mishkan are forbidden on Shabbat. Among them is “hakosher v’hamatir – tying and untying a knot.”

The Mishnah (Shabbos 111b) states that the knots in question are those of camel drivers and sailors. Rashi explains that these are permanent knots. The Chayyei Adam (topic 26-27:1-2) states that any knot tied to last for a lengthy period is considered permanent, but some view a tightly tied knot as permanent as well (even if it is not tied to last a long time). The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 317:1) adds that knots similar to those of skilled craftsmen are also included. The Rema cites Rashi, Rabbenu Yerucham, the Rosh, and the Tur who disagree about the length of time a knot must remain tied to be considered permanent (24 hours to a week).

* * * * *

The Gemara (in Shabbos 74b) tries to determine the instance of tying in the Mishkan that serves as the source for the av melachah of “kosher – tying.” (The Hebrew word for tying, “kosher,” is spelled kuf, shin, resh. The word “kosher” in regards to food is spelled chaf, shin, resh.) The Gemara first proposes that workers tied the Mishkan curtain to pegs that held it in place. The Gemara, however, rejects this suggestion because the workers never intended for their tying to be permanent since the Mishkan was constantly being assembled and disassembled as the Jews’ encampment moved from place to place.

The Gemara, therefore, offers an alternative source for the melachah of tying. When artisans wove the Mishkan’s curtains, strings would tear necessitating that the two broken ends be tied together. The problem with this explanation is that we’re left with not knowing what the source for the melachah of untying is. The Gemara subsequently explains that if the weavers noticed two knots adjacent to each other, they would untie one and tie the other (Rashi s.v. “ve’katar chad” explains that they would leave the other tied as it was).

The Gemara rejects this explanation, though, as unseemly. (Rashi explains that there would be a visible hole remaining in that process as the threads used were thick; thus, a different process that involved longer strings must have been used so that knots did not occur close to one other.)

The Gemara ultimately concludes that Jews performed the melachah of tying and untying for the Mishkan in capturing the chilazon, the creature necessary for the techelet royal purple dye. Tying and untying was necessary to produce, use, and enlarge the ropes and nets that trappers used. (The Jerusalem Talmud [Shabbos 7:2], however, states that the source for the melachah of kosher lies in the process of weaving the curtains for the Mishkan.)

The Mishnah (Shabbos 111b) states that the forbidden tying and untying applies to knots of camel drivers and sailors since they exemplify the property of permanence found in the knots of the Mishkan. (The Mishnah does not mean that Jews actually tied camel drivers’ and sailors’ knots for the Mishkan.)

Do we know what sailors’ and camel drivers’ knots looked like? The answer is: not exactly. We do know that camel drivers’ knots included piercing a hole in a camel’s nose (similar to the piercings in ancient times for human nose rings). A short rope would be run through the camel’s nose piercing, which would form a sort of ring when knotted. To this, the camel drivers’ reins would be attached to enable leading or driving the animal. Similarly, the sailors’ knot involved attaching a rope through a hole in the bow of the boat, to which another rope or chain would be used for either mooring or anchoring the boat in place.

According to the Taz (Orach Chayim 317:1) explaining the Rambam and Rif, the knot must be firm and sturdy (tight) as well as long lasting. Tying such a knot on Shabbat is biblically prohibited. If the knot, however, is either not long lasting or not sturdy, then tying it is only rabbinically prohibited.

The Taz explains, though, that Rashi and the Rosh maintain that it matters not whether the knot is sturdy or not, but rather what the person’s intent was – i.e., did he expect the knot to remain tied indefinitely so that he need not retie it? If he did, then it is biblically forbidden to untie it on Shabbat. However, if he intended to untie it on the very same day that he tied it, he may untie it without incurring any violation, biblical nor rabbinical.

Q & A: Biblical Blue Fringe: Will the Real Chilazon Please Stand Up!

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

In February we conducted a thorough discussion of the mitzvah of techeilet. The following guest piece by Baruch Sterman, marking 20 years since the establishment of the Ptil Tekhelet Foundation (www.tekhelet.com), is a follow up to that discussion.

For the last 20 years, the Ptil Tekhelet Foundation, under the leadership of Rabbi Eliyahu Tevger, has worked to spread awareness of all areas of study relating to techeilet, as well as to make techeilet strings available to the public. Techeilet is the sky-blue wool that was worn by the Kohen Gadol, whose garments included a robe (me’il) that was completely techeilet and a band worn on his forehead from which the golden tzitz with the name of G-d hung. The regular priests also wore a sash embroidered with the precious blue wool.

Each Jew is commanded to tie a thread of techeilet to the corners of his garment to remind him of all the commandments. Tzitzit, the emblem and uniform of the Jew, is his everyday priestly garb that signifies his bond to the Almighty and his membership in a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Techeilet was fantastically expensive and one of the most sought after treasures in the ancient world. Often worth as much as twenty times its weight in gold, the blue dye was a driving economic commodity in the Mediterranean domain. The source of the dye was a sea creature called the chilazon by the Talmud, porphyros by the Greeks and murex by the Romans and has been identified as the species of mollusk named Murex trunculus.

Shellfish dyeing dates back 5,000 years; the first mention of “takhiltu” predates the written Torah and is found in the Tel el Amarna tablets in Egypt from the times of Abraham. The murex snail is depicted on coins from Tyre (the capital city of the Phoenicans, who were expert dyers, located in what is now Lebanon) .The Tanach records that Hiram, king of Tyre, sent his best craftsmen and dyers to help Shlomo build the Beit Hamikdash.

The demand for techeilet, and its sister dye argamman (knows as Tyrian Purple), and the status associated with those who could afford to wear them, led to state monopolies in the dye production, and severe restrictions were placed on their use. In Roman times, only the emperor and the governing elite were permitted to own and wear shellfish dyed robes and to disobey this regulation was “an offense similar to high treason.”

Though Jews tried their best to produce and wear techeilet on their tzitzit, the expense, difficulty, and danger associated with obtaining it prevented most of them from fulfilling the commandment. In the turmoil and tragedy of the seventh century in Israel, when the holy land was conquered by Persians, Christians, and finally Arabs, the secrets of dyeing techeilet were lost, and the Midrash (in approximately the year 720) laments, “and now we have only white, for the techeilet has been hidden.”

For the next 1,300 years techeilet would remain lost, not only to the Jews but to the secular world as well. The exact details regarding the identity of the chilazon faded into obscurity, and only a few vague descriptions or other clues remained scattered throughout the Talmud. In the mid-nineteenth century the first attempts were made to renew the mitzvah of techeilet. Within the secular world it was generally accepted that the source of the ancient blue and purple dyes was some sea snail, although the exact species was unclear. The Tiferet Yisrael, Rav Yisrael Lipschitz, considered that option, but rejected it since the color produced by those snails was purple-blue or violet. Techeilet, according to halachic tradition, had to be sky blue.

Influenced by the Tiferet Yisrael, the great hasidic Rebbe of Radzyn, Gershon Henokh Leiner, devoted his life to searching for an alternative candidate, and after a trek across Europe to the newly opened aquarium in Naples, he settled upon the cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis, as the true chilazon. Using a bit of chemical magic to turn the black sepia ink into blue, the Radzyner began to produce techeilet, and within a year tens of thousands of his followers wore the blue strings on their tallitot. Most contemporary rabbinic authorities, however, rejected the Radzyner techeilet.

The final blow to the identification of the cuttlefish as the chilazon would come in 1914, more than 20 years after Rabbi Leiner’s death. That year, Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi Herzog, later to become the first chief rabbi of the State of Israel, wrote his doctoral dissertation for the University of London on the topic of Hebrew Porphyrology (the study of purple – a word Rav Herzog invented). He requested samples of the dyed strings from the Radzyn dye masters and sent them for chemical analysis in laboratories across Europe. The conclusion was that Radzyn techeilet was a synthetic dye known as Prussian Blue, and that the color in fact came from the chemicals added to the mixture as part of the process, and was not based on the ink obtained from the cuttlefish. It was inconceivable, argued Rav Herzog, that the Talmud would insist on the dye coming from the chilazon, if that creature did not provide any essential ingredient to the color forming process.

Q & A: Tying Knots On Shabbat (Part I)

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Question: My son recently stopped wearing a necktie and lace-up shoes on Shabbat. He explained that he doesn’t want to transgress the prohibition against tying knots on Shabbat. Is tying a necktie or shoelaces really forbidden?

“A Mother in Israel” (Via E-Mail)

Answer: The Chayyei Adam (topic 26-27:1-2) states, “One who ties or unties a permanent knot [on Shabbat] that meets the criteria of a craftsman – such as knots used by camel drivers, sailors, shoemakers in the course of crafting shoes and sandals, and similar knots – is liable according to all views. There are those who say that any knot tied to last for a lengthy period is considered a permanent knot…. A knot that is tied to be untied every day is not considered a knot and one is allowed to both tie it and then untie it. However, in deference to those who view any knot that is squeezed tight as permanent, one should avoid untying [such a] knot unless it is a situation of great discomfort….”

The Chayyei Adam unusually classifies this halacha as one topic but gives it a twin numeric – “26-27” – since in many instances we are talking about a person actually committing two forbidden acts: tying and untying.

The source of this halacha is the mishnah in Perek Klal Gadol (Shabbos 73a). It lists the 39 primary labors prohibited on Shabbat. These were acts that were generally performed in constructing the Mishkan. The only exception is baking, which Rashi (s.v. “ha’ofeh”) notes was not performing in building the Mishkan.

The biblical source for prohibiting these melachot is derived from the beginning of Parshat Vayakhel, which details the construction of the Mishkan. Preceding the description of the construction is the following verse (Exodus 35:2): “Sheshet yamim te’aseh melacha u’vayom ha’shevi’i yiyeh lachem kodesh Shabbat shabbaton la’Shem kol ha’oseh bo melacha yumat – On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem; whoever does work on it shall be put to death.” Rashi cites the Mechilta which explains that this passage precedes the construction of the Mishkan to serve as a warning that the melachot necessary to build the Mishkan do not override Shabbat.

Listed among the 39 prohibited labors is tying and untying a knot. The mishnah at the beginning of Perek V’elu K’sharim (infra 111b) states: “And these are the knots for which one is liable [for violating the Sabbath]: the knot of the camel drivers and that of the sailors. And just as one is liable for having tied them, he is also liable for untying them…” Rashi (ad loc. “v’elu k’sharim”) explains: “These, where the knot is permanent (kesher shel kayama) – they are never undone – are considered avot melachot (principle labors prohibited on Shabbat), similar to the tying of the curtains’ threads [in the Mishkan] that were torn.”

The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 317:1) adds: “…albeit that it is ‘ma’aseh uman’ (labor of a skilled craftsman). Then he is liable [and must bring a karban chatat]. Examples: the camel driver’s knot or that of the sailors and the knots on shoes or sandals that the shoemaker ties in the course of their manufacture and all that are like these. However, if one ties a permanent knot, but it is not of a skilled craftsmen, he is not liable [biblically, but is rabbinically prohibited from doing so].”

The Rema (ad loc.) notes: “There are those (Rashi, Rosh, Rabbenu Yerucham, and Tur) who disagree and opine that for any permanent knot, even if it is not of a skilled craftsman, one is liable. There are others who [go further and] opine that any knot that is not meant to be untied on that day [i.e. it will remain tied for a 24 hour period] is considered permanent. And there are others who are lenient and consider any knot that remains tied for less than seven days as not being permanent.”

The Mechaber (infra) also notes that “a knot that is not permanent and not of a skilled craftsman can be tied ab initio.” Rema adds: “This applies as well to untying it.”

Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Kaf HaChayyim, Orach Chayyim, ad loc. sk 2) makes the following observation: “It would seem to me that the Mechaber’s [distinction between tying violations that make one liable to a karban chatat and those that do not and are only rabbinically forbidden] is of no consequence today as we have no sin offerings. However, I do see a consequential difference and that is in regards to those whose testimony is invalidated. If one intentionally transgressed a violation that requires him to bring a korban chatat, he is considered an invalid witness whose testimony may not be accepted. Also, if one betroths a woman in his presence [depending on him as a witness] there is no need for a get [if the couple should wish to divorce]. However, if his transgression is only rabbinically prohibited, then in the same circumstance, they will need a get to divorce, because he is deemed a valid witness…”

Q & A: Ayin Hara (Part VI)

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Question: I know there is a dispute in the Gemara regarding ayin hara, the evil eye. Can you discuss the origin of it?

Ben Glassman
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The Rambam (Hilchot Gezela v’Aveidah 13:11) and the Mechaber (Choshen Mishpat 267:18) write that one who finds a garment must periodically air it out, but not when there are guests around. This halacha is based on Bava Metzia 29b, which mentions two reasons for this rule – either because of ayin hara or because of possible theft. Neither the Rambam nor the Mechaber mention the ayin hara concern. The Aruch Hashulchan (Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Hashavat Aveidah 267:11) notes that the finder may air out the garment before guests if he is sure they are people of integrity, in which case, there is no concern of theft or the evil eye. The Bach, to the Tur (C.M. ad loc.), argues that the Rambam and the Mechaber only mention theft and not ayin hara because the concern of theft is easier for the general populace to understand.

We find that our forefathers’ and mothers’ actions at times have been influenced by the evil eye. According to the Midrash Rabbah, Hagar miscarried due to the ayin hara that Sarah cast upon her. And the Talmud (Ta’anit 10b, see Rashi) states that the only reason Jacob sent his sons to go down to Egypt to buy food was to ward off the evil eye (Jacob, in fact, had enough food to eat).

The evil eye should not always concern us. R. Yochanan asserts in Tractate Berachot (20a) that he has no fear of the evil eye since he descends from Joseph. R. Yossi ben R. Chanina explains that the evil eye has no power over the eye (i.e., Joseph) that chose not to partake of that which did not belong to it (the wife of his master Potiphar). Tractate Berachot (55b) suggests that one who is afraid of the evil eye should, among other things, request protection in Joseph’s merit. Possibly all Jews enjoy this protection (see Rashi and Metzudat David [Tehillim 80:2]). If we are immune to the destructive power of the evil eye, Rav’s statement about a cemetery, “Ninety-nine died as a result of the evil eye, and only one naturally” (Tractate Bava Metzia 107b), perhaps refers to people who are overly ostentatious and thus more susceptible to the evil eye (Yefei Einayim).

It seems there are two types of evil eye. One is the evil eye of wicked who intend harm, which has no power over Jews and ultimately destroys the wicked person himself, even if he is a Jew (as Rabbenu Yona explains based on Avot 2:11). The other type is the evil eye of the righteous, which does affect Jews, particularly the wicked (Tractate Ketubbot 103b; see also Tractate Berachot 58a about a Sadducee who contradicted R. Sheshet and became a heap of bones, as well Tractate Shabbos 33b-34a, which records a similar incident with R. Shimon b. Yochai).

Resultant damage from the evil eye is termed hezek re’eyah – damage caused by looking at someone else’s property (Bava Batra 2b) – and the Gemara details halachot about constructing partitions to prevent it. A person is entitled to a degree of privacy on his premises and more so within his house.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, zt”l (Michtav Me’Eliyahu vol. 3: p.313) explains (citing Eruvin 64b and Rashi) that the wealthy should perform mitzvot with their wealth to protect it from the evil eye, as ostentation causes jealousy which invites ayin hara.

* * * *

Many people would be surprised at the number of everyday situations where we take ayin hara into account. For example, the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 230:2, based on Bava Metzia 42a) rules that when one is about to measure new grain [the new season’s growth], he recites a blessing, “Yehi ratzon milfanecha Hashem Elokeinu shetishlach beracha b’chri hazeh – May it be your will O L-rd, our G-d, that You send blessing upon this pile.” When one begins to actually measure, he recites, “Baruch Hashole’ach beracha b’chri hazeh – Blessed is He who sends [His] blessing upon this pile.” If, however, he has already started measuring he shouldn’t say the blessing as it would be a prayer uttered in vain. Why? Because blessing is only found in that which is hidden from the eye.

Our sages derived this concept from the pasuk in Prashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 28:8) “Yetzav Hashem itcha et ha’beracha ba’asamecha – Hashem will command the blessing for you in your storehouses.” From the word “asamecha – storehouses,” they extrapolate that blessing applies to that which is “samui – hidden,” i.e., the quantity is yet unknown. The Maharsha (Bava Metzia ibid.) explains that the reason this is necessary due to ayin hara.

There is a dispute whether one should use the Divine name – Shem u’Malchut – when reciting this beracha. The Ritvah (novella to Bava Metzia ad. loc.) argues that one does. Ramban (novella, ad loc.), on the other hand, writes that one recites Shem u’Malchut only when separating terumot and maasarot.

Q & A: Ayin Hara (Part V)

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Question: I know there is a dispute in the Gemara regarding ayin hara, the evil eye. Can you discuss the origin of it?

Ben Glassman
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The Rambam (Hilchot Gezela v’Aveidah 13:11) and the Mechaber (Choshen Mishpat 267:18) write that one who finds a garment must periodically air it out, but not when there are guests around. This halacha is based on Bava Metzia 29b, which mentions two reasons for this rule – either because of ayin hara or because of possible theft. Neither the Rambam nor the Mechaber mention the ayin hara concern. The Aruch Hashulchan (Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Hashavat Aveidah 267:11) notes that the finder may air out the garment before guests if he is sure they are people of integrity, in which case, there is no concern of theft or the evil eye. The Bach, to the Tur (C.M. ad loc.), argues that the Rambam and the Mechaber only mention theft and not ayin hara because the concern of theft is easier for the general populace to understand.

We find that our forefathers’ and mothers’ actions at times have been influenced by the evil eye. According to the Midrash Rabbah, Hagar miscarried due to the ayin hara that Sarah cast upon her. And the Talmud (Ta’anit 10b, see Rashi) states that the only reason Jacob sent his sons to go down to Egypt to buy food was to ward off the evil eye (Jacob, in fact, had enough food to eat).

The evil eye should not always concern us. R. Yochanan asserts in Tractate Berachot (20a) that he has no fear of the evil eye since he descends from Joseph. R. Yossi ben R. Chanina explains that the evil eye has no power over the eye (i.e., Joseph) that chose not to partake of that which did not belong to it (the wife of his master Potiphar). Tractate Berachot (55b) suggests that one who is afraid of the evil eye should, among other things, request protection in Joseph’s merit.

There is some discussion about whether all Jews enjoy this protection from the evil eye. Rashi and Metzudat David (to Tehillim 80:2) explain that since Joseph sustained his brothers and their families in Egypt, they are referred to by his name and enjoy his protection. The statement of Rav about a cemetery, “Ninety-nine died as a result of the evil eye, and only one naturally” (Tractate Bava Metzia 107b), perhaps refers to people who are overly ostentatious and thus more susceptible to the evil eye (Yefei Einayim).

It seems there are two types of evil eye. One is the evil eye of wicked who intend harm, which has no power over Jews and ultimately destroys the wicked person himself, even if he is a Jew (as Rabbenu Yona explains based on Avot 2:11). The other type is the evil eye of the righteous, which does affect Jews, particularly the wicked (Tractate Ketubbot 103b; see also Tractate Berachot 58a about a Sadducee who contradicted R. Sheshet and became a heap of bones, as well Tractate Shabbos 33b-34a, which records a similar incident with R. Shimon b. Yochai).

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What do we really mean when we speak of the resultant damage from the evil eye? The Gemara (Bava Batra 2b) refers to this as hezek re’eyah – damage caused by looking at someone else’s property. The Gemara forbids one to look at another person’s field when produce is growing, and Rashi (s.v. “asur l’adam she’ya’amod”) explains this is due to the evil eye. We are concerned that an ayin hara will affect the produce.

Even though the Gemara is clear that only in such or similar instances do we classify the damage as due to the evil eye, it would nevertheless seem that all hezek re’eyah has an undertone of ayin hara.

The concept of hezek re’eyah, in general, is that a person is entitled to a degree of privacy when using his own premises. If he is within his house then there is an even greater expectation of privacy (as Rashi notes, s.v.”hezeka d’bayit sha’ani”) since a person engages in matters that are more private; hence, there are issues of personal modesty which might be violated if this expected privacy is breached.

It is thus understandable that today, in the course of either the construction or renovation of a house, a large fence will be erected all about the property or, at a minimum, the houses’ windows will be covered or clouded to protect the family from unwanted viewing. Though the fence this may be required by city ordinance to protect passerby from any falling debris, we might nevertheless attribute some of this safeguard to a concern of ayin hara; we don’t want any mishap in the course of construction (just like the Gemara is concerned about the produce in the field).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/ask-the-rabbi/q-a-ayin-hara-part-v/2011/12/21/

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