A Question of Jewish Law

October 31, 2016

34. When Is a Festival not a Festival?

Filed under: Festivals,Jewish Law,Prayers and Blessings,Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 10:17 am

Question:  After reading the Haftorah on the intermediate Shabbat of the festivals, does one recite the blessing for Shabbat or the blessing for the festival?

Answer: The Haftorah is a passage from the prophets which is read after the Torah reading on Shabbat and Yom Tov. There is no Haftorah reading on the intermediate days of the festivals. For this reason, our first instinct would be to say that since the Haftorah is being read only because of Shabbat, it is a ‘Shabbat Haftorah’ and therefore only the blessings for Shabbat should be recited. However, although the Haftorah is definitely a ‘Shabbat Haftorah’ the day is still a ‘festival day’! Why shouldn’t the festival also be mentioned? Shouldn’t the festival be acknowledged wherever the day is mentioned in a blessing, regardless of whether the activity specifically belongs to the festival or not?

Although the Talmud does not discuss this question directly, it does discuss a related question. In Tractate Shabbat [24 A and B] the Talmud asks whether the special addition for Hanukkah [Al HaNissim] should be added during the Musaf prayer of Rosh Hodesh Hannukah. There is no Musaf for Hanukkah and the prayer is only a ‘Rosh Hodesh prayer’. After some discussion, the Talmud concludes that the Hannukah paragraph is added. We also mention Shabbat in the Neila prayer on Yom Kippur. Although there is no Neila prayer for Shabbat, the day is still Shabbat. Shabbat is mentioned on all the prayers of Yom Kippur whether they are Shabbat prayers or not. This suggests that the Haftorah blessings of the intermediate days of festivals should mention the festival regardless of whether we consider this to be a ‘festival Haftorah’ or not.

But does an intermediate day of a festival count as being enough of a festival for the purpose of mentioning it in the Haftorah blessing. Although the intermediate days have some features of festivals, they are essentially weekdays. It is possible that they are simply not ‘festival’ enough to justify changing blessings.

Surprisingly, in normative Ashkenazi practice, there is a difference between Pesach and Succot. Our practice is that on intermediate Shabbat of Pesach we recite the Shabbat blessing but on the intermediate Shabbat of Succot we recite the festival blessing. The intermediate days of Succot are considered more of a festival than the intermediate days of Pesach.

The roots of this can be found in the Torah. When describing the festival of Succot the Torah dedicates a full paragraph to each of the days of the festival. For this reason, each day is considered a festival in and of itself, and therefore the festival blessing is recited. However, when describing the festival of Pesach, the Torah simply states “you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days” [Lev 23:6] including the intermediate days in this general statement. For this reason, the intermediate days of Pesach are not considered to be separate festivals. Therefore, we use the festival blessing for the Haftorah on Succot but for not for Passover.

This perhaps explains another difference between the two festivals. During the festival of Succot, we recite the full Hallel on each of the days of the festival. But during Pesach, we recite the full Hallel on the Yom Tov at the beginning of the festival, but not on the intermediate days.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Tishre 5777

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May 18, 2016

Keeping in Sync

Filed under: Festivals,Jewish Law,Prayers and Blessings,Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 7:54 am

Question: This year the 8th day of Pesach in the Diaspora landed on Shabbat. This caused the reading of the Torah in Israel (which doesn’t have an 8th day) and the Diaspora to go out of sync. Why didn’t Diaspora Jews catch up with the reading in Israel on the following week by combining the readings of ‘Achrei-Mot’ and ‘Kedoshim’, which are frequently read together? Why do we wait almost 2 months, when we combine the readings of ‘Matot’ and ‘Masay’, before coming back together?

 

Answer: Keeping the reading in Israel and the Diaspora in sync was not a priority for the Rabbis. Over much of history most Jews would not have been aware that the Torah readings in Israel and in the diaspora are sometimes different. In both Israel and the Diaspora we follow the same set of rules for deciding when to combine readings, but because the festival calendars are not the same, the readings are sometimes different.

The Torah is divided into 54 different sections known as Parashot. Each week we read a different section from the Torah. Only one Parasha, VeZot HaBracha, is not read on a Shabbat, rather it is reserved as the reading for the festival of Simchat Torah.

The number of Shabbat readings that are required in any given year varies according to the calendar from a minimum of 46 to a maximum of 53. The number of readings that are needed depends on 2 factors; whether it is a leap year (which adds an extra 4 weeks to the year) and on how many festivals during the year land on Shabbat (thus displacing the normal Torah reading and reducing the number of readings that are needed). Altogether there are 14 readings that can potentially be combined, resulting in a maximum of 7 double parashot.

The division of the Torah into weekly readings and the system for combining them to match the calendar is not mentioned in the Talmud. It emerged over time. At the time of the Mishna the weekly reading of the Torah was fluid. There weren’t set readings for each week but rather, there were rules that were followed to make sure that the reading was finished at the appropriate time. For example:

‘Rabbi Simeon ben Elazar says: Ezra established that the curses in the Book of Leviticus should be read before the festival of Shavuot and the curses in the book of Deuteronomy before Rosh Hashanah.’ [BT, Megillah 31b]

Over time these rules became more complicated. Maimonides writes in his code:

“The common custom is that the portion ‘Bamidbar’ is read before Shavuot, ‘Va’etchanan’ after Tisha b’Av, ‘Niztavim’ before Rosh Hashanah. In a regular year (i.e. not a leap year) ‘Tzav’ is read before Pesach. [MT Laws of Prayer 13:2]

The system we now follow for deciding when to combine the readings follows the guidelines set out by Maimonides. The general rule is that we read one portion each week until we come to one of the signposts for correcting the reading. If at that point we are too far ahead in our reading, we double the nearest pair of potential parashot that come before that signpost in order to keep on schedule.

This is how it works. The first 4 double portions [‘Vayakhel’ – ‘Pekuday’ / ‘Tazria’ – ‘Metzora’ / ‘Acharei-Mot’ – ‘Kedoshim’ / ‘Behar’ – ‘Behukotai’] are reserved to adjust the reading for a leap year. They are doubled in a regular year and read separately in a leap year. The remaining 3 potential doubles [‘Hukkat’ – ‘Balak’ / ‘Matot’ – ‘Masay’ / ‘Nitzavim’ – ‘Vayelech’] are reserved for years where a festival lands on Shabbat and the reading gets out of sync with the calendar. There are corrections before Shavuot, before Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah to keep everything on track.

Diaspora communities celebrate an extra day of Yom Tov for each festival. Therefore, in the diaspora it is more common for a Yom Tov to land on Shabbat and more doubles are required.  As a matter of fact, in Israel it never happens that all 53 parashot are read separately over the course of a year. Also, the portions of ‘Hukkat’ and ‘Balak’ are never combined in Israel.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Iyar 5776

[Note: there are some unique years when, for a variety of factors, the reading is slightly different from that stated above. These are very rare and there isn’t room to address all of the possible variations in this post.]

 

Based on: Parsha Management, – Doubling, Halving Accuracy, Shekldon Epstein, Bernard Dickman and Yonah Wilamowsky

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March 11, 2012

A Sabbath Blessing

Filed under: Festivals,Prayers and Blessings,Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 6:26 pm

Question: Should the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim) be recited on a festival that falls on Shabbat?

Answer:  The obligation to recite the Priestly Blessing is found in the Torah. “Speak to the sons of Aaron: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them …” [Num. 6:22-23]. Of all of the positive commandments directed at the priests, it is the only one that is not dependent on the existence of the Temple – and therefore the only one that is still practised today.

According to the Shulchan Aruch, [OC 128] the Priestly Blessing is recited daily during the repetition of the Amidah in the morning service – corresponding to the time it was recited in the Temple. It is also said during the Musaf prayers on the Sabbath and Festivals.

However, amongst the Ashkenzi communities in the Diaspora, it is a long established custom to limit this observance exclusively to the Musaf prayers of the festivals. Rabbi Moshe Isserlis [Poland, 16th century], the major codifier of Ashkenazi practice, writes:   “It is the custom in these countries to only recite the Priestly Blessing on festivals, for that is when one is immersed in the joy of the festival. … and they recite it in the Musaf prayer, before they leave the synagogue engrossed in the joy of the festival.”

Isserlis connects the Priestly Blessing to the concept of joy. There is a special joy on festivals which is different from weekdays and Shabbat. In the Shabbat Amidah, Shabbat is described as a time of love – in the equivalent Amidah for the festivals they are described as a time of joy. The Birkat Kohanim is recited at the end of Musaf, because the joy of Yom Tov is greatest at the end of the service – when one is about to go home to partake in the festive meal.

There are other explanations for the Ashkenazi custom. Some commentators connect the recitation of the Priestly Blessing to the service of the Priests in the Temple. Although the Priests no longer serve in the Temple – the closest we come to Temple service are the Musaf prayers which recount the offerings on the altar, so this is the most appropriate time for reciting the blessing.

Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein [Aruch Hashulchan, 128] [Lithuania, 19th century] rejected this custom. He writes: In our countries we do not recite the Birkat Hakohanim [daily] but there is no good reason for this. He goes on to say that ‘it is a bad custom’. מנהג גרוע הוא There is anecdotal evidence that Rabbi Elijah of Vilna [the Vilna Gaon] wished to reintroduce the daily recitation of the Priestly Blessing – but was prevented from doing so.

Although the custom in the Diaspora is to only recite the blessing on festivals, the custom in Israel is to recite it daily. The reason is probably historical. Amongst the earliest settlers in Israel in the modern period were the students of the Vilna Gaon. They probably brought the Gaon’s practice with them when they came to Israel, and it has remained the custom there to this day.

Many communities refrain from reciting the blessing when a Yom Tov falls on the Sabbath. Rabbi J. Soloveichik challenged the custom. It is reported that when he was a young Rabbi, he sought to introduce it in his synagogue and was subsequently dismissed from his pulpit. [Nefesh Harav]

In summary, although the Ashkenazi custom is to limit the recitation of the Priestly Blessing in the diaspora to Yom Tov, there is no good reason not to recite it when a festival lands on Shabbat. If an Ashkenazi community wishes to reintroduce it, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

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March 1, 2011

Public Transport on Shabbat

Filed under: Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 10:25 pm

Question: Is it permitted to ride on public transport on Shabbat, assuming that the transport workers are not Jewish and the trains are operating for the general public and not specifically for Jews?

Answer: The Mishnah rules that it is forbidden to ride on an animal on Shabbat. This is a rabbinic prohibition designed to prevent  a person inadvertently cutting a branch from a tree in order to drive the animal forward. Furthermore, the Jerusalem Talmud states that the reason for not riding on animals on Shabbat is to enable animals to rest also. The Shulchan Aruch [OH 305:18] codifies this as law. Moses Isserlis [Poland, 17th century] adds that it is also forbidden to ride in a wagon on Shabbat, even if the driver is not Jewish. He says that the same considerations apply – i.e. that a person might cut a branch from a tree and  that animals are also entitled to rest on Shabbat.

If the prohibition of riding in a wagon is specifically related to animals resting, it should be permitted to ride on public transport which is driven by electric or petrol motors. This is providing that the trains are not being operated by Jews and there are not any further Shabbat prohibitions related to this travel.

However, there are several other issues that should be taken into consideration. First, as we saw in my article on Cycling on Shabbat, there is a general prohibition of engaging in ‘Weekday activities’ on Shabbat, known as Uvdin D’Hol. The Hatam Sofer  [Hungary, 18th century] rules that all forms of public transport are forbidden on Shabbat [Responsa: 6:93]. This is because the experience of being in a crowded car being tossed back and forth by the movement of the train is not in the spirit of Shabbat. Rabbi BZ Uziel [Israel, 20th century] rejects this ruling, for if this was the case, the Rema (Moses Isserlis) would have included this amongst his reasons prohibiting riding in a wagon.

However, Rabbi Uziel adds that the prohibition of Uvdin D’Hol would apply if one was going on a long journey, particularly if this journey was in preparation for business the following day. Also, it is forbidden to pay for travel, to carry outside of an Eruv or to travel beyond the Shabbat boundaries (see my article on cycling on Shabbat).

Following this reasoning, it would be permitted to travel on public transport on Shabbat for short trips within a city if the journey does not involve carrying, paying for travel or going outside the city limits. This is on condition that the transport is running anyway, and does not involve Jews desecrating the Sabbath.

 

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

 

Based on B. Z. Uziel, Piskei Uziel 13.

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February 16, 2011

A Weekend Service

Filed under: Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 11:29 pm

Question: Is it permitted to put a car in for servicing, or request any other service or repair, on a Friday afternoon, if it is known that a non-Jewish mechanic or craftsman will do the work on it on Shabbat?

Answer: The commandment to rest on Shabbat is one of the central commandments of the Torah. Not only is it forbidden to work – it is also forbidden to ask someone else, even a non-Jew, to do your work for you. The source of this prohibition is in the Talmud [Shabbat 150a] A person should not say to a Goy – go and hire me workers on Shabbat. This prohibition is called Amira LeGoy (instructing a non-Jew). Maimonides rules [Shabbat 6:1]: It is forbidden to instruct a Goy to do work on Shabbat, even though the Goy is not obligated to observe the Shabbat, even if he gives him the instruction before Shabbat commences, and even if he will only benefit from that labour after Shabbat is over. This is a Rabbinic prohibition, and its intention is to prevent a person from vicariously carrying out their normal work on Shabbat.

All of this applies to circumstances where one has specifically asked for the work to be carried out on Shabbat. But if one did not specify when the work is to be carried out, it is permitted to hand over the work on a Friday. This is the case even if the craftsman chose to carry out the work on Shabbat, for it was his own choice to work on Shabbat  and a non-Jew is under no obligation to observe the Sabbath.

The Shulchan Aruch [OH 252:2,4] states: It is permitted to give his clothes to the laundry before Shabbat, or skins to a non-Jewish tanner if he set a fixed fee in advance and he did not specifically ask that the work be done on Shabbat.  It is even permitted to wear the clothes on Shabbat itself, for anyone who works for a fixed fee chooses himself when to do the work. Moses Isserlis notes that one should not wear the clothes on that same Shabbat. In the case of a car repair all agree that it is permitted, for the mechanic could have chosen to repair the car on Friday afternoon or Saturday night or Sunday – and therefore it makes no difference to us if the mechanic chose to do the work on Shabbat.

The situation is more complicated if there is not sufficient time to do the work unless it is done on Shabbat. The Magen Avraham [OH 307:3] writes that if there was a Saturday market, it is forbidden to give a non-Jew money before Shabbat and ask him to buy things in the market. Since the market is only open on Shabbat, this is as if he had been instructed to make the purchases on Shabbat. Even if he had not specifically been asked to do the work on Shabbat, the non-Jew has no choice but to do it then, and it counts as if he had been asked to do so. However, Joseph Karo in the Shulchan Aruch does not adopt this ruling. He maintains that as long as there was not a specific instruction to do the work on Shabbat, any work carried out by non-Jews is permitted.

In this case the custom of Ashkenazi Jews is to follow the Magen Avraham and therefore only give work to a non-Jew before Shabbat if there is sufficient time for it to be done without working on Shabbat. Sephardi Jews follow the rulings of Joseph Karo, and therefore permit any work to be given to a non-Jew before Shabbat, as long as there was not a specific request to do the work on Shabbat itself.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Based on R. Ovadia Yossef, Yachve Da’at,  3, 17.

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Question: Is it permitted to put a car in for servicing, or request any other service or repair, on a Friday afternoon, if it is known that a non-Jewish mechanic or craftsman will do the work on it on Shabbat?

 

Answer: The commandment to rest on Shabbat is one of the central commandments of the Torah. Not only is it forbidden to work – it is also forbidden to ask someone else, even a non-Jew, to do your work for you. The source of this prohibition is in the Talmud [Shabbat 150a] A person should not say to a Goy – go and hire me workers on Shabbat. This prohibition is called Amira LeGoy (instructing a non-Jew). Maimonides rules [Shabbat 6:1]: It is forbidden to instruct a Goy to do work on Shabbat, even though the Goy is not obligated to observe the Shabbat, even if he gives him the instruction before Shabbat commences, and even if he will only benefit from that labour after Shabbat is over. This is a Rabbinic prohibition, and its intention is to prevent a person from vicariously carrying out their normal work on Shabbat.

 

All of this applies to circumstances where one has specifically asked for the work to be carried out on Shabbat. But if one did not specify when the work is to be carried out, it is permitted to hand over the work on a Friday. This is the case even if the craftsman chose to carry out the work on Shabbat, for it was his own choice to work on Shabbat  and a non-Jew is under no obligation to observe the Sabbath.

 

The Shulchan Aruch [OH 252:2,4] states: It is permitted to give his clothes to the laundry before Shabbat, or skins to a non-Jewish tanner if he set a fixed fee in advance and he did not specifically ask that the work be done on Shabbat.  It is even permitted to wear the clothes on Shabbat itself, for anyone who works for a fixed fee chooses himself when to do the work. Moses Isserlis notes that one should not wear the clothes on that same Shabbat. In the case of a car repair all agree that it is permitted, for the mechanic could have chosen to repair the car on Friday afternoon or Saturday night or Sunday – and therefore it makes no difference to us if the mechanic chose to do the work on Shabbat.

 

The situation is more complicated if there is not sufficient time to do the work unless it is done on Shabbat. The Magen Avraham [OH 307:3] writes that if there was a Saturday market, it is forbidden to give a non-Jew money before Shabbat and ask him to buy things in the market. Since the market is only open on Shabbat, this is as if he had been instructed to make the purchases on Shabbat. Even if he had not specifically been asked to do the work on Shabbat, the non-Jew has no choice but to do it then, and it counts as if he had been asked to do so. However, Joseph Karo in the Shulchan Aruch does not adopt this ruling. He maintains that as long as there was not a specific instruction to do the work on Shabbat, any work carried out by non-Jews is permitted.

 

Question: Is it permitted to put a car in for servicing, or request any other service or repair, on a Friday afternoon, if it is known that a non-Jewish mechanic or craftsman will do the work on it on Shabbat?

Answer: The commandment to rest on Shabbat is one of the central commandments of the Torah. Not only is it forbidden to work – it is also forbidden to ask someone else, even a non-Jew, to do your work for you. The source of this prohibition is in the Talmud [Shabbat 150a] A person should not say to a Goy – go and hire me workers on Shabbat. This prohibition is called Amira LeGoy (instructing a non-Jew). Maimonides rules [Shabbat 6:1]: It is forbidden to instruct a Goy to do work on Shabbat, even though the Goy is not obligated to observe the Shabbat, even if he gives him the instruction before Shabbat commences, and even if he will only benefit from that labour after Shabbat is over. This is a Rabbinic prohibition, and its intention is to prevent a person from vicariously carrying out their normal work on Shabbat.

All of this applies to circumstances where one has specifically asked for the work to be carried out on Shabbat. But if one did not specify when the work is to be carried out, it is permitted to hand over the work on a Friday. This is the case even if the craftsman chose to carry out the work on Shabbat, for it was his own choice to work on Shabbat  and a non-Jew is under no obligation to observe the Sabbath.

The Shulchan Aruch [OH 252:2,4] states: It is permitted to give his clothes to the laundry before Shabbat, or skins to a non-Jewish tanner if he set a fixed fee in advance and he did not specifically ask that the work be done on Shabbat.  It is even permitted to wear the clothes on Shabbat itself, for anyone who works for a fixed fee chooses himself when to do the work. Moses Isserlis notes that one should not wear the clothes on that same Shabbat. In the case of a car repair all agree that it is permitted, for the mechanic could have chosen to repair the car on Friday afternoon or Saturday night or Sunday – and therefore it makes no difference to us if the mechanic chose to do the work on Shabbat.

The situation is more complicated if there is not sufficient time to do the work unless it is done on Shabbat. The Magen Avraham [OH 307:3] writes that if there was a Saturday market, it is forbidden to give a non-Jew money before Shabbat and ask him to buy things in the market. Since the market is only open on Shabbat, this is as if he had been instructed to make the purchases on Shabbat. Even if he had not specifically been asked to do the work on Shabbat, the non-Jew has no choice but to do it then, and it counts as if he had been asked to do so. However, Joseph Karo in the Shulchan Aruch does not adopt this ruling. He maintains that as long as there was not a specific instruction to do the work on Shabbat, any work carried out by non-Jews is permitted.

In this case the custom of Ashkenazi Jews is to follow the Magen Avraham and therefore only give work to a non-Jew before Shabbat if there is sufficient time for it to be done without working on Shabbat. Sephardi Jews follow the rulings of Joseph Karo, and therefore permit any work to be given to a non-Jew before Shabbat, as long as there was not a specific request to do the work on Shabbat itself.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

In this case the custom of Ashkenazi Jews is to follow the Magen Avraham and therefore only give work to a non-Jew before Shabbat if there is sufficient time for it to be done without working on Shabbat. Sephardi Jews follow the rulings of Joseph Karo, and therefore permit any work to be given to a non-Jew before Shabbat, as long as there was not a specific request to do the work on Shabbat itself.

 

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

October 27, 2010

Cycling on Shabbat (lll): Further considerations.

Filed under: Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 5:09 pm

Question: Is cycling permitted on Shabbat?

Answer: I have already looked at two of the main issues concerning cycling on Shabbat, based on a response of Rabbi Yoseph Chaim of Baghdad (19th Century, Iraq).  He wrote a lengthy response to this question and came to the conclusion that cycling was permitted within an Eruv. In public areas he permitted being carried in a cycle-rickshaw, and then only if the person doing the peddling was not Jewish. If this seems strange, keep in mind that the original question came from Bombay, where rickshaws were common.

Most subsequent authorities forbid cycling on Shabbat. One of the most prominent was Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg [Germany, Switzerland, 20th Century). Weinberg prohibited cycling for three reasons.

1) Techum Shabbat (lit. the Shabbat area). Although one is allowed to travel any distance within a city on Shabbat, one may travel only 2000 Amot (roughly 1 km) from the perimeter of the city or town of residence on Shabbat.  A person on foot is unlikely to go beyond this limit, but this distance is easily covered on a bicycle. According to this opinion, cycling is prohibited in order to prevent one from inadvertently going beyond the Techum.

2) Repairs. One may need to repair a bicycle by adjusting the chain, the brake or inflating a tyre. All these are forbidden on Shabbat. Therefore cycling should be forbidden lest one inadvertently repair the cycle.

R. Yoseph Chaim considered both of these objections in his response and rejected them. He followed the principle that ‘one does not add additional decrees on ones own volition’, and as these activities were not prohibited in the Talmud, he asserts that we do not add them now.

3) Uvdin D’chol – appropriate Shabbat activities. R. Yoseph Chaim had already considered the question of Uvdin d’chol, and came to the conclusion that it doesn’t apply to cycling inside an Eruv. R. Weinberg disagrees. He reasons that there is a difference between regular household activities and activities like cycling which involve a great deal of physical exertion. He claims that hard physical work goes against the very spirit of Shabbat as a day of rest, and that one cannot ‘permit’ them on technical grounds.

The normative practice is to forbid cycling on Shabbat. Children are permitted to cycle within a closed area (backyard or park).  Children’s tricycles and bicycles are toys.  They unlikely to go beyond the Techum and if they break they are within walking distance of home.

Riding a bicycle is certainly preferable to driving a motor car on Shabbat. Therefore, in those cases where it is necessary to travel, (such as police on patrol or doctors making local rounds) if cycling is a viable alternative, one should choose to cycle.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Based on Weinberg, Tzitz Eliezer 1:21:27

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October 21, 2010

Cycling on Shabbat (II) – Carrying

Filed under: Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 9:19 pm

Question: Is cycling permitted on Shabbat?

Answer: The Mishna [Shabbat 7:2] lists the major categories of work that are prohibited on Shabbat: The primary forms of work are forty less one, … carrying out from one domain to another.  Thus carrying is one of the main archetypal forms of labour on Shabbat.

The Halacha divides the world into four different kinds of areas,  known as domains; a public domain, a private domain, a Carmelit and an exempt place. It is forbidden to carry from a private domain into a public domain or Carmelit (or vice versa). There are rules about carrying within each of these domains.

A private domain is an area that is enclosed by walls with only a minimal number of gaps for windows and doors. Carrying is permitted in a private domain. A public domain is a large public area where 600,000 people pass through each day. There is much debate as to how this is calculated, but only the most densely populated cities qualify as a public domain. It is forbidden to carry for a distance of more than four Amot (roughly two meters) in a public domain. A Carmelit is between public and private – it does not have walls so it does not count as being private and it does not have enough people in it to be considered public. The Rabbis have decreed that a Carmelit is to be treated as a public place and therefore carrying is forbidden within it. A Carmelit may be transformed into a private domain by surrounding it with walls and this is called an Eruv.. Once the Carmelit has been enclosed, carrying within it is permitted. An exempt place is so small that it does not qualify as being a space at all. The laws of carrying do not apply to it.

When cycling on Shabbat, one will frequently be moving from a private domain (one’s home) into a Carmelit (the street), and will be travelling a substantial distance within the Carmelit. Does this transgress the laws of carrying on Shabbat?

There is no question that one is allowed to carry within an Eruv. Outside of an Eruv the situation is more complicated. The Talmud [Shabbat 8a] considered the case of a person who threw a large barrel from a private place into a public place on Shabbat. It determines that there is no transgression in this case. The reason – the barrel is large enough to be considered a domain in its own right. Therefore, anything inside the barrel remains within a private domain, even though it is moving within a Carmelit. Surprisingly, from a Halachic point of view no carrying has taken place!

This determination has ramifications for many situations. Anyone travelling in a car or a bus – not to mention those who are being carried in chairs – are considered to be within a private domain. A private domain moving within a public domain does not count as carrying.

Therefore, when cycling within an Eruv, all carrying is permitted. Even outside an Eruv carrying should be permitted, even if travelling through the Carmelit, for this is a private domain moving within a public space [i.e. a Carmelit].

There are still other considerations that need to be taking into account when looking at cycling on Shabbat. I will be looking at these in part III of this response.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Based on R. Chaim of Baghdad, Rav Pa’alim, Part 1, OH 25.

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October 14, 2010

Cycling on Shabbat (I)

Filed under: Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 5:18 pm

Question: Is riding a bicycle permitted on Shabbat?

Answer: It is obvious that there is nothing wrong with the act of cycling itself, which involves moving legs up and down on pedals, in a manner that is not unlike walking. However, cycling as an activity touches on several areas of the Laws of Shabbat and I will address each one separately. The first question is whether riding a bicycle is an ‘appropriate’ Shabbat activity in principle.

The Talmud [Beitza 25b] quotes a Braita which states: A blind man may not go out with his staff, nor a shepherd with his wallet, neither may a man or a woman go out in a chair. Rashi explains that these activities were forbidden because they are ‘weekday activities’ – Uvdin D’Hol. Any activity which belongs to the everyday work week, and not necessary or special for Shabbat, is proscribed under this regulation. As a form of transport, cycling may be prohibited under the category of Uvdin d’Hol.

The subsequent discussion in the Talmud concentrates on the Chair – which was a Roman sedan chair carried by two or more people – an early form of transport. The Talmud states that although going out in a Chair is usually considered Uvdin d’Hol – if one needs to go out for the benefit of the public, it is permitted. Based on this, the Shulchan Aruch rules: [OH 522:2] One may not go out in a chair on Yom Tov, man or woman, but if needed by the community it is permitted.

Examples of public benefit would include a Rabbi going to give a sermon, going to shul to read Torah, to make up the minyan or even just attending shul. The Talmud takes a lenient view and even one who rides in the chair to avoid walking on a crowded street or because he wishes to arrive relaxed is permitted. Thus Uvdin d’Hol does not apply where there is a public need.

Both Maimonides [MT Yom Tov 5:3] and Karo [ibid] include this ruling in the laws of Yom Tov, but not under the laws of Shabbat. They obviously think that although one may go out with a chair on Yom Tov, on Shabbat it is forbidden. This is because carrying is forbidden on Shabbat – so the chair could not be carried outside of an Eruv in any case.

To summarise, according to all commentators it is permitted to carry the chair on Yom Tov whenever there is public need. On Shabbat, most commentators agree that it is permitted to carry it inside the Eruv. Interestingly, the Tur does include this rule under the laws of Shabbat. He obviously felt that it is permitted to carry the chair on Shabbat, possibly even outside of an Eruv!

Back to the bicycle. Following this discussion in the Talmud, and strictly from the point of view of Udvin d’Hol, it is permitted to cycle on Shabbat inside an Eruv. However, once we go outside of the Eruv we encounter the prohibition of carrying on Shabbat.

But is cycling a form of carrying? And why does the Tur think one is allowed to carry the chair outside of the Eruv? To answer these questions we need to take a closer look at the laws of carrying on Shabbat. This is a subject I will deal with in part two of this response.

Based on R. Chaim of Baghdad, Rav Pa’alim, Part 1, OH 25.

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October 6, 2010

Electric Candles on Shabbat

Filed under: Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 8:55 am

Question: Is it permitted to use electric lights as Shabbat ‘candles’?

Answer: The Mishna in Tractate Shabbat [2:2] records a debate among the Rabbis as to which oils can be used to light Shabbat candles. Rabbi Ishmael says: We may not burn tar out of respect for the Sabbath. But the Sages permit all kinds of oils; sesame oil, nut oil, radish oil, fish oil, gourd oil, as well as resin and naphta. Rabbi Tarfon, however, says: We may use only olive oil. The Halacha follows the majority opinion of the sages – that any oil may be used. In addition, the Talmud [BT Ta’anit 25a] tells a story about the daughter of R. Hanina ben Dosa, who accidentally lit vinegar instead of oil for Shabbat. In spite of the fact that vinegar is not flammable, a miracle took place and the flame burned throughout the day. This suggests that even inflammable substances can be used for the Shabbat light.

Electric lights are a relatively recent innovation. There has been much debate about their status in Jewish law. At the beginning of the 19th century, Rabbi Shimon Greenfeld [19th Century, Hungary] wrote: ‘I do not understand what electric light is, but at a first glance, it seems to me that one cannot fulfil the obligation of lighting [with it], because there is no flame … and the source of this light is a great mystery.” [Teshuvot Maharshag 2:107] However, as time passed the Rabbis became more aware of the nature of electric light. The position that electric light is to be considered ‘fire’ in the Halachic sense became established.

There is a strong correlation between the prohibition of turning lights on and off on Shabbat, and the use of electric lights for performing other Mitzvot. If electricity isn’t fire, then using electricity on Shabbat should be permitted. If electricity is ‘fire’, it should be permitted to use it to perform other fire related Mitzvot as well. It is reported that Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik [The Brisker Rav, 19th century, Lithuania] and R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky [20th century, Lithuania] would purposely use electric Havdalah candles in order to establish among their followers the principle that electric light is fire.

There is a long tradition of using oil or wax for the Shabbat light. Since we now rarely light candles for other purposes, lighting ‘real’ candles for Shabbat is special. For these reasons, it is preferable to use oil or wax candles for Shabbat.

However, in situations where lighting an open flame may be hazardous or subject to regulation, one may use electric lights. This is the case for patients in a hospital, or guests staying at a hotel. Where an electric light is used, the regular blessing for lighting Shabbat lights, found in most prayer books, should be recited.

Based on R. Ovadia Yossef, Yachve Da’at,  5, 24.


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August 5, 2010

Heating and Reheating (II)

Filed under: Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 12:08 am

Question: What is the proper way to use ovens and stoves on Shabbat, when either reheating or serving food that has been left on the flame form before Shabbat?

The Shulchan Aruch (OH 253:5) states: “It is permitted place a previously cooked dish on top of a pot in order to heat it, because this is not a usual method of cooking”. Elsewhere the Shulchan Aruch (OH 318:8) states: “It is permitted to place a cold dish on top of a hot pot which is on the fire on Shabbat, for anything which is permitted to be placed near the fire on Shabbat, such as a dry dish, may be placed on top of a pot which is on the fire.”.

These two statements indicate that it is not permitted to place a cold dish directly on the fire in order to heat it up – there needs to be some distinction between the way things are heated up and they was that they are normally cooked. Therefore, even though reheating on Shabbat is permitted – placing things directly on the fire in the manner of normal cooking, is not.

The Shulchan Aruch is also concerned about the Talmudic prohibition of ‘Shema Yechate’ – lest one stirs the coals. The fear is that one who places something on a fire on Shabbat is likely to do something to adjust the temperature – which would directly violate the prohibition of fire on Shabbat. Any use of an over or stove must ensure that it is impossible to use the controls to adjust the flame.

In our modern context, there are several ways to make sure that food is reheated in an ‘indirect’ manner. One way is the blech – a metal covering which is placed over a stove on Shabbat when the top is used for reheating. The blech must completely cover the gas hob, and also the controls for the gas to prevent any adjustments being made on Shabbat. The Shabbat Plata is an electrical equivalent. The electric heating element is completely covered by a metal box, and it has no temperature controls that can be adjusted.

Liquids may not be reheated on Shabbat, but may be left on the fire from before Shabbat comes in on Friday. The prohibition of Shema yechate also applies. A Shabbat urn is specifically used for keeping water hot over Shabbat. To meet Shabbat regulations the urn must be turned on and brought to a boil before Shabbat. A good Shabbat urn keeps the water just under 100 degrees – so that the water does not boil away. It should ideally have no adjustable temperature controls.

Furthermore, there are other ways that the temperature of food left on the fire might be regulated on Shabbat.  The Shulchan Aruch (OH 253:3) states: “One who rises in the morning and sees that his food is overcooked and fears it will burn, may place an old empty pot on the fire and place his pot on top – but he or she must take care not to place his boiling pot on the ground”.

The fear of placing the pot on the ground is because moving a pot on and off a flame is a good way to regulate its temperature, and therefore too much like real cooking. One who places a boiling pot of liquid food on the fire from before Shabbat – may not return to pot to the fire once it has been removed and set down. It is permitted to temporarily take the pot off the fire to serve – as long as the pot is held until it is placed back on the flame.

All these seem like pedantic details. But the Halacha is trying to bridge the gap between two different concerns. It wants to prevent us from cooking – which is one of the major prohibitions, but it knows that a good hot meal is the key to Shabbat enjoyment. The details of law enable to us to enjoy the meal without the preparation of the meal supplanting the enjoyment of the day.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Based on R. Ovadia Yossef, Yachve Da’at,  4, 9.

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