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September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Raphael Grunfeld’

Pidyon Ha’ben And Tisha B’Av

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Pidyon ha’ben, like brit milah, is primarily the responsibility of the father. A brit milah must be performed on the eighth day of the child’s birth, unless it would endanger the life of the child. Pidyon ha’ben must be performed on the 31st day of the child’s birth. Neither ceremony may be delayed beyond its prescribed time unless there is some halachic justification to do so.

In the case of milah, such a delay is a very serious matter since the punishment for unjustifiably delaying circumcision, by even one day, is karet, premature death at the hand of God. So important is the duty to circumcise on the eighth day that if the eighth day happens to be Shabbat, the milah is performed even though the surgery involves a melachah de’oreitah, biblically prohibited work on Shabbat.

Accordingly, in the event of a conflict between the duty to circumcise on the eighth day and the prohibition against violating Shabbat by inflicting a wound, the duty to circumcise takes precedence. It is also most important that the circumcision be performed by a devout Jew. So important is this requirement that it takes precedence over the requirement to circumcise on the eighth day. Accordingly, if the only person available to perform the milah on the eighth day is a person who is not a devoutly observant Jew, the milah should be postponed until such a mohel is available.

Unlike a brit milah on the eighth day which overrides the prohibition of performing a melachah on Shabbat, a pidyon ha’ben, which involves the handling of money and the performance of a transaction, both prohibited activities on Shabbat, does not override the Shabbat. Therefore, if the 31st day of the birth is Shabbat, the pidyon ha’ben is postponed to Sunday. Apart from this situation, there is no license to postpone the pidyon ha’ben ceremony beyond its prescribed time. Such a postponement, though not as serious as the postponement of a brit milah, would violate the general prohibition of shihui mitzvah, postponing the performance of a mitzvah.

Both the brit milah and the pidyon ha’ben ceremonies are celebrated by a festive meal, a seudah, to which family and friends are invited. If the 31st day is in the middle of the week, it would of course be more convenient to postpone these ceremonies to Sunday when more guests can attend. Such a postponement is, however, unacceptable for the reasons articulated.

In a situation on which the eighth day is in the middle of the week and the parents insist that the brit milah be performed on a Sunday and threaten to have a non-observant doctor perform the circumcision if the mohel won’t agree to the postponement, then according Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, it is better for the observant mohel agree to perform the circumcision on the Sunday, even though this results in a prohibited delay. The reason for this is that a circumcision performed by a non-observant person is ineffective.

Similarly, if the parents insist that the pidyon ha’ben be performed on a Sunday when more people can attend the seudah, then, notwithstanding the general prohibition of shihui mitzvah, the kohen may perform the ceremony even though it is beyond the 31st day. Of course, in both situations, but especially with milah, the father should be prevailed upon to conduct the ceremony and the celebration at the prescribed time without any postponement.

Both the seudah in honor of the brit milah and in honor of the pidyon ha’ben have the halachic status of seudot mitzvah. This has practical consequences, particularly in the period of the nine days between Rosh Chodesh Av and Tisha B’Av. Accordingly, even though one should refrain from reciting the blessing of Shehecheyanu during the nine days, the blessing may be recited for a pidyon ha’ben performed during that time. Similarly, though one is not permitted to eat meat or drink wine during the nine days, close relatives and friends of the child’s family may do so at a brit or pidyon ha’ben seudah during this time, even on erev Tisha B’Av, provided it is done before noon.

Finally, even though the father of the child may not break his fast when the ninth of Av is on the 31st day of the birth of the firstborn, some authorities hold that when the 31st day of the birth occurs on a Tisha B’Av that was postponed to the 10th of Av (as is the case when the ninth of Av is a Shabbat), the father of the child and the kohen, even though they may not make a se’udat mitzvah, may break their fast in the afternoon.

Raphael Grunfeld’s book “Ner Eyal on Seder Moed” (distributed by Mesorah) is available at OU.org and your local Judaica bookstore. His new book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Nashim & Nezikin,” will be available shortly.

Pidyon Ha’ben (Bechorot 46)

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

A son who is not himself a kohen or a Levi, firstborn to a Jewish mother who is not the daughter of a kohen or a Levi, has the status of a bechor and must be redeemed through a ceremony known as pidyon ha’ben.

The performance of the pidyon ha’ben ceremony, which should take place on the 31st day following the date of the birth of the child, is primarily the responsibility of the father. It is one of the caretaking duties a father owes his son, in addition to the responsibility to see to it that he is circumcised, to assist him in finding a spouse, and to teach him Torah and a profession. If the father has been derelict in this duty, it devolves upon the son to redeem himself as soon as he is old enough to do so.

If one considers that prior to the institution of the kehunah, the priesthood, the firstborn was charged with the responsibility of offering up sacrifices to God on the people’s behalf, it is understood that the kehunah should be compensated for redeeming the child from the bechor status and depleting, as it were, the ranks of the kehunah.

Accordingly, the pidyon ha’ben ceremony involves paying the kohen 5 shekalim (or sela’im) or chattels of equivalent value in exchange for the redemption.

The pidyon ha’ben ceremony is conducted between the father and the kohen either with or without the presence of the child to be redeemed.

After the father declares to the kohen that he has a firstborn son that requires redemption in accordance with the laws of the Torah, the kohen then asks the father the following question. “What would you prefer to give me your firstborn or to redeem him for 5 sela’im as permitted by the Torah?”

The father responds, of course, that he would prefer to redeem the child. Still holding the money in his hand, the father then articulates to himself that he is now performing the requirement of pidyon ha’ben and he then recites two blessings.

First, he recites the blessing of pidyon ha’ben and then he recites the Shehecheyanu blessing in which he thanks God for giving him this moment in his life. Immediately following the recital of these two blessings, the father hands over the redemption money to the kohen. The kohen holds the money over the head of the child and recites the following: “With this money, this child is redeemed and he should now enter into life, live it in accordance with the laws of the Torah, guided by the fear of God. Even as he has entered into the ceremony of pidyon haben, he should enter into the world of Torah, into marriage and should help create a universe of kindness.”

The kohen then places his hands over the child’s head and recited the Birchat Kohanim, the priestly blessing, and then returns the child to his father.

It is the custom to celebrate the pidyon ha’ben with a festive meal and to perform the ceremony during the course of the meal. This festive meal is considered a seudat mitzvah, with all the halachic ramifications attached to this concept.

Even though the Temple is no longer in existence and the kohanim no longer practice their priestly profession, pidyon ha’ben is a requirement for all Jewish firstborn males any place, anytime.

Although the ownership in the redemption money must be legally conveyed by the father to the kohen for the pidyon ha’ben to be effective, the kohen may, if he wishes, and generally does, return the money to the father.

As with the arba minim on Sukkot, the money can also be given as a gift with the stipulation that the gift be returned, since such a gift has the power, under Jewish property law, to convey temporary ownership.

In view of the fact that only a son who first opens his mother’s womb has the status of a bechor, neither a boy born through a C-section nor a son born in a natural way following the birth of his brother through a C-section, is a bechor and both are exempt from the requirement of pidyon ha’ben.

Unlike milah, which must take place on the 8th day of birth even if that means performing the circumcision on a Shabbat, if the 31st day following the birth is a Shabbat, the pidyon ha’ben is postponed to a Sunday.

Perhaps the rhetorical question “what would you prefer, to give me your son or to buy him back,” has a hidden message. When it comes to the lives of our children, money is no object.

Raphael Grunfeld’s book “Ner Eyal on Seder Moed” (distributed by Mesorah) is available at OU.org and your local Judaica bookstore. His new book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Nashim & Nezikin,” will be available shortly. Comments to the writer are welcome at rafegrunfeld@gmail.com.

The Great Escape

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

In June 1967, even skeptics and agnostics admitted that the people of Israel, who only days before were digging their own graves, were saved by nothing short of a miracle. Over the years, however, however, the miracle, so obvious when it occurred, became camouflaged in a shroud of strategic, military terms.

Clearly, the victories of the outnumbered Maccabean freedom fighters over the vast Syrian armies of Antiochus, Lysias and their allies could only be explained in terms of a miracle. Indeed, the Book of the Maccabees, as well as the Al Hanisim prayer, portrays the military victories as miracles. Yet the Talmud, in a seven-line summary of the meaning of Chanukah, makes no mention of the military miracles.

Rather, the Talmud focuses on the miracle of that small jar of pure oil, untouched by the Syrian invaders, which burned for eight days, even though it contained oil sufficient for only one.

Why does the Talmud emphasize the miracle of the oil over the miracle of the military victory? The Talmud tells us that a lamp is lit over the head of each unborn child in its mother’s womb, enabling it to perceive all the ways of God throughout the world. When the child enters this world, however, it leaves the lamp behind and has to discover the ways of God without it. And in the jostle and struggle for physical survival, the divine spark that remains to guide us is often threatened with extinction. Life becomes so reasoned and vision so tunneled, that even the flare of a miracle can go unrecognized. Enter the Chanukah lights. This miracle, of the jar of oil sufficient in quantity for one day that burned for eight, is a nes galui, inexplicable in natural terms.

The rabbis tell us that the purpose of the Chanukah lights is to illuminate the miracle of the military victory which could perhaps be a nes nistar, explained in natural terms. They also tell us that the time to light is at sunset, when the light in this world is about to die, and that the Chanukah lights must remain burning “ad shetichle regel min hashuk” – until the streets become empty.

The Berditchever Rebbe points out that the word “regel,’ which means foot, is the same as the word “hergel,” which means habit. And so, he explains, the lights of Chanukah should remain burning until they remove the habit of reason from our spiritual vision and allow us to behold the nes nistar. Furthermore, though the Maccabean battles for the rededication of the Temple were won, the war was ultimately lost with the destruction of the Temple some 200 years later. The pure oil of the Temple menorah was extinguished until this day. But not the oil of the Chanukah menorah. Like the miracle of the burning bush of Moses, the Chanukah lights have withstood, for centuries, the fires of persecution.

Like the Jewish people themselves, the Chanukah lights, we are assured, will never die. That was God’s promise, in response to Aaron’s complaint that the Tribe of Levi was not invited to participate in the dedication of the Sanctuary. The lights of the Sanctuary, God warned, would eventually be extinguished, but the Chanukah lights of Aaron’s Maccabean descendants will shine forever.

The Midrash identifies seven chanukot in history, which include the chanukah of Creation, when God lit the lights of the world, the chanukah of the Sanctuary, the Maccabean chanukah, and the chanukah of Mashiach. On Shabbat Chanukah we celebrate two chanukot, the chanukah of Creation and the chanukah of the Maccabees. Which do we light first? The Shabbat and the Havdalah candles that celebrate the chanukah of Creation or the Chanukah candles that celebrate the chanukah of the Maccabbees?

The answer of reason and numbers would dictate tadir vesheino tadir, tadir kodem, which means do first what you do more frequently. And since Shabbat is celebrated each week and Chanukah just once a year, light the Shabbat candles first. But the Chanukah lights defy the logic of numbers and reason. Their message of pirsumei nissa takes precedence to remind us that creation and daily existence are miracles that cannot be explained in natural terms.

That is perhaps one of the reasons why most agree that the Chanukah lights are lit before the Shabbat candles and why most agree that the Chanukah lights are lit at home, before the Havdalah candles after reciting Havdalah in the Amidah.

Raphael Grunfeld’s book “Ner Eyal on Seder Moed” (distributed by Mesorah) is available at OU.org and your local Judaica bookstore. His new book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Nashim & Nezikin,” will be available shortly.

Any comments to the writer are welcome at rafegrunfeld@gmail.com.

Tax Evasion And Tax Avoidance: Bechorot 34a; Berachot 35b; Sanhedrin 5a; Gittin 81a.

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

There is nothing as certain as death and taxes, so the saying goes. Almost equally certain is the phenomenon of the living trying to avoid or evade taxes. In law school they teach you that while tax avoidance is legal, tax evasion is illegal. But the difference between avoidance and evasion is often difficult to define. Witness the recent tax shelters structured by national accounting firms and bolstered by the opinions of venerable law firms, only to be shot down by the IRS. At the end of the day, the only reliable distinction between tax avoidance and tax evasion is what the authorities decide post facto.

The issue is as old as money itself and it is one that every legal system struggles with. Halacha, to the extent it is a legal system – and it is much more than that – struggles with it too.

The Talmud laments the fact that contemporary generations look for ways to escape paying taxes whereas their predecessors looked for ways to pay them. The Talmud illustrates this point in connection with taxes, known as terumot and ma’asarot, or tithes, paid by the people of Israel to the kohanim, the priests. These tithes were only required to be separated and paid to the kohen in respect of crops which were delivered to the crop owner’s storehouse through the main entrance but not in respect of crops delivered through an abnormal route, such as, through a skylight in the roof.

Whereas earlier generations of farmers would have their crops delivered through the main entrance and pay the tithes that such delivery triggered, later generations of farmers would have them delivered through the skylight and thereby avoid the taxes. Although the rabbis ruled this terumah avoidance device legal,  they criticized those who took advantage of it.

Other devices employed to circumvent other obligations were ruled illegal. Such was the case with certain devices designed to free the kohen of the obligation to offer up, as a sacrifice, the bechor behemah tehorah he received from the people of Israel.

Needless to say, the kohen who received the bechor animal would be financially better off if he could have unrestricted personal use of the bechor without having to offer it up as a korban. If there were some way to free the bechor of its hekdesh status and from the obligation to offer it up as a sacrifice, the kohen would benefit.

First of all, he would not have to  take care of the bechor until it was fit for a korban. Second, he would be able to slaughter it anywhere and not be confined to slaughtering it in the Temple. Third, he would be able to feed it to anyone he desired  and not just to his immediate family. Fourth, he would be able to eat it anywhere rather than being confined to eating it in Jerusalem. Fifth, he would be able to sell it to any willing buyer, Jewish or non-Jewish.

If only the kohen could engineer that the bechor develop a moom, a blemish, that would render it unacceptable as a korban, he could solve his problem. The blemish would render the animal ineligible as a korban, but yet not treif, so that the kohen would be able to enjoy the entire animal instead of having to lose the benefit of part of it by burning it on the altar.

It would not be difficult to achieve this because even a slight blemish, such as a cut lip or a slit ear, would disqualify the animal as a korban. What if the kohen placed a basket of food behind some barbed wire, enticing the animal to go for the food and cut itself in the process? Or what if he could convince a non-Jew to injure the animal for him?

Kosher And Non-Kosher Eggs

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Generally speaking, any food produced by a non-kosher animal is non-kosher. Thus, the egg of a non-kosher bird is not kosher but the egg of a kosher bird, such as a chicken, is kosher. If one comes across an egg and does not know which bird laid it, how does one tell a non-kosher egg from a kosher egg?

The Talmud gives us two ways to tell if an egg is of a non-kosher bird. If the egg is totally round like a ball rather than round at one end and tapered at the other end, a non-kosher bird laid the egg. So, too, if the yolk of the egg surrounds the white of the egg rather than the other way around, or if the egg has no white but is filled with yolk. If, however, the egg is round at one end and tapered at the other, the white of the egg surrounds the yolk and it looks like the egg of a chicken or of another identifiable kosher bird, the egg is kosher and may be eaten without any further investigation as to its pedigree.

In accordance with the general principle articulated above, the egg of a neveilah chicken that died before it was properly slaughtered, as well as the egg of a treif chicken that suffered from one of the treif-rendering defects previously discussed, is prohibited for consumption.

If a non-kosher egg, such as the egg of an eagle, was cooked in the same pot as kosher eggs, the kosher eggs remain kosher and may be eaten provided the non-kosher egg was cooked in its shell. The reason for this is that a kosher item cooked with a non-kosher item only becomes non-kosher if it absorbs the taste of the non-kosher item cooked together with it.

The shell of the non-kosher egg acts as a buffer through which the taste cannot be transferred to the kosher eggs. If, however, the non-kosher egg is taken out of its shell or its shell is cracked and it is cooked with the kosher eggs, the kosher eggs become non-kosher and cannot be eaten even if the kosher eggs remain in their shells unless the ratio of the kosher eggs to the non-kosher egg is at least 61 kosher eggs to the 1 non-kosher egg.

What is the status of an egg with bloodstains or blood specks?

The basic principle here is that the Torah only prohibits the consumption of blood of meat but not the blood of eggs. Nevertheless, there is a concern that a blood spot in an egg may indicate the presence of the beginning of the formation of the embryo of a chick. Although a hatched chick would be permissible for consumption if properly slaughtered, the embryo of a chick inside an egg of a bird, even a kosher bird, is forbidden for consumption. Such a blood spot that raises the concern of the existence of the beginnings of an embryo in the egg is referred to in the halacha as dam rikum.

The concern of dam rikum, however, is only present in the case of an egg laid by a chicken that mated with a rooster but it is not present in the case of an egg laid by a chicken that was not fertilized by a rooster. A fertilized egg may hatch into a chick after the hen has sat upon it for a period of three days whereas an egg that was not fertilized by a rooster, referred to in the halacha as beitza hamuzeret, will never hatch into a chick never mind how long the hen sits on it. Accordingly, any blood found in an unfertilized egg cannot be dam rikum and under Torah law may be eaten.

Kashering Meat

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Strolling around an antique shop in Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country, I was reunited with many of the items that inhabited my mother’s kitchen. There was a scrubbing board and a metal oval-shaped tub with which one would scrub and wash clothes and a ringer through which one would dry them. I also saw a charred metal grate that reminded me of the one my mother used to kasher pieces of liver.

Today, of course, we live in a convenience-oriented world. We have a washing machine and a dryer and the meat we buy has already been kashered.

Still, it is important to know how to wash ones clothes manually, (the washing machine has been known to break down) and how to kasher meat and fowl (there are places where this service is not provided by the butcher).

In order to be able to eat meat or fowl that has been properly slaughtered, certain substances, which are strictly forbidden for consumption under Jewish dietary laws, must be removed. These substances include forbidden fat, the sciatic nerve, certain arteries and veins and blood. Porging the meat after shechita removes the forbidden fat, sciatic nerve, arteries and veins. Kashering the meat after shechita removes the forbidden blood.

We know that the consumption of blood is prohibited. After shechita, a certain quantity of blood, known as capillary blood – dam eivarim – is retained in the meat and muscles of the animal. Although this capillary blood is considered part of the meat and therefore permissible when eaten with meat in its raw, uncooked state, once the meat is cooked this capillary blood separates from the meat and becomes prohibited.

If this capillary blood is not extracted from the meat before it is cooked, the water in which the meat is cooked will become suffused with the capillary blood, with the result that both the meat and the utensil in which it was cooked will become treif and will have to be discarded. It has been known to happen that meat thought to have been kashered by the butcher before purchase had not been so kashered, rendering the entire kitchen treif and resulting in painful financial loss.

Kashering the meat is the process by which the meat, prior to cooking, is drained of the capillary blood in order to prepare it for permitted consumption.

Kashering consists of two stages – soaking the meat in water and covering it with salt that draws and drains the blood from the meat. Kashering is required both for the meat of animals and the meat of fowl. Certain organs of the animal, if they are to be eaten (such as the heart, the head, the hooves, the liver, the spleen, the stomach) must be extracted from the carcass of the animal and kashered separately.

First the meat, together with the bones and kosher fat which have been cut out of the meat – but which one intends to cook together with the meat – are thoroughly washed by hand to remove all traces of congealed blood. They are then immersed and submerged for one half hour in tepid water in a bowl or other utensil, reserved specifically for this purpose. Care is taken that the water comes in contact with all areas of the meat, fat and bones. If upon retrieving the meat from the water one cuts it up into yet smaller pieces, the meat has to be soaked again so that the water comes into contact with the newly exposed sides of the meat.

Care should be taken not to allow the meat to soak too long in the water. Meat that has soaked in water for a period of twenty-four hours or longer can no longer be kashered. This is because the protracted action of the water will have closed the pores of the meat, so that the blood can no longer be drawn out.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/halacha-hashkafa/kashering-meat/2011/10/26/

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