Monday, February 24, 2020

Dayo, which blessing comes first? TB Berachot 52

The eighth chapter of massecht Barachot explicates the eight disagreements between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai found in the Mishnah. Today’s daf TB Berachot 52 sees an inconsistency in Beit Shammai’s position concerning Kiddush and Havdalah. When it comes to Kiddush Beit Shammai says we recite the paragraph that sanctifies Shabbat or the holiday first and then make the blessing over the wine. The Gemarra on TB Berachot 51 supplies us with his reasoning. “Beit Shammai say: When one recites kiddush over wine, one recites a blessing over the sanctification of the day and recites a blessing over the wine thereafter as the day causes the wine to come before the meal.” ( translation) The Gemara learns from a baraita (a tannaitic statement) when it comes to Havdalah Beit Shammai says we first say the blessing over wine and then the blessing that separates Shabbat from the weekday. Shouldn’t the same logic apply that the new weekday day i.e. Saturday night comes first and that causes the wine to come?

The Gemara explains to us that Beit Shammai is teaching us something important about Shabbat.  “And, nevertheless, after the Gemara has proven that the baraita corresponds to the opinion of Beit Shammai as interpreted by Rabbi Yehuda, the contradiction Beitween Beit Shammai’s statement in the baraita and their statement in the Tosefta is difficult. The Gemara responds: Beit Shammai hold that the arrival of the day of Shabbat or a Festival is different from the departure of the day. As with regard to the arrival of the day, the more that we can advance it, the Beitter; with regard to the departure of the day, the more we postpone it, the Beitter, so that Shabbat should not be like a burden to us. Consequently, although Beit Shammai situate kiddush before the blessing over the wine, they agree that one should recite havdala after the blessing over the wine.” ( translation)

Too many people only look at what is prohibited on Shabbat. One can’t do this and one can’t do that. At first glance Shabbat can seem like a terrible burden. Those of us who observe the Sabbath focus on all the things we can do when all the distractions are removed. There’s time to have a meal where the entire family sits down together. There’s time to slow down and smell the roses. This time to read and study things we couldn’t during the week. Consequently, Shabbat isn’t a burden at all, but a taste of the World to Come. That’s why Beit Shammai wants to hold on Shabbat for as long as possible even if it’s only for a few seconds it takes a person to recite the blessing over the day before the blessing over the wine.

As soon as we finish massechet Berachot we immediately began massechet Shabbat. During the course of study we shall learn why Shabbat is a blessing and not a burden.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

I know where the Malach Hamaves, the Angel of death lives TB Berachot 51

Today's daf is dedicated to my father-in-law Max Diamond on his yahrzeit.

 We finish the seventh chapter and begin the eighth chapter of Berachot with today’s daf TB Berachot 51. I guess Rabbi Yehoshu ben Levi shares good advice he received from the Malach Hamaves, The Angel of Death.

“Similarly, the Gemara relates that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: The Angel of Death told me three things: Do not take your cloak in the morning from the hand of your servant and wear it; do not ritually wash your hands from one who has not ritually washed his own hands; and do not stand before the women when they return from the burial of the deceased, because I dance and come before them and my sword is in hand, and I have license to destroy..” ( translation)

When I was a rabbinical student, my friend Avram Reisner found something interesting. I don’t know why he was reading the Manhatten phone book, but he was. He found a listing “Hamaves, Malach who lived on West End Ave.” We thought perhaps that person wanted an unlisted phone number and didn’t want to pay extra for it. But what if it was the Malach Hamaves?! We were too scared to call that number and the Malach Hamaves would answered and say, “I’ve been expecting your call.”

Well if your path accidently cross the Malach Hamaves, the Gemara tells you how to escape his clutches.

“The Gemara asks: And if one encounters women returning from a funeral, what is his remedy? The Gemara answers: Let him jump four cubits from where he stands; if there is a river, let him cross it; if there is another path, let him go down it; if there is a wall, let him stand behind it; and if not, he should turn his face around and recite the verse: “And the Lord said to the Satan: The Lord rebukes you, Satan, the Lord that has chosen Jerusalem rebukes you; is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?” (Zechariah 3:2), until they pass him.” ( translation)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Don't throw your food because children are starving TB Berachot 50

Remember the movie Animal House? In the cafetaria scene John Belushi stands up and yells, “Food fight!” and food goes flying in all directions. Obviously these characters never studied today’s daf TB Berachot 50 in school. The Gemara teaches table etiquette. One should never debase good food because children some where are going hungry. Just ask your grandmother in which country they are starving now.

The Gemara continues to discuss the topic of using food. The Sages taught: Four things were said with regard to bread: One may not place raw meat on bread so the blood will not drip onto the bread and render it inedible; and one may not pass a full cup of wine over bread lest the wine drip on it and ruin the bread; and one may not throw bread; and one may not prop up a dish with a piece of bread. The basis for these laws is the need to treat bread with respect.

The Gemara recounts: Ameimar, Mar Zutra and Rav Ashi ate bread together when they brought dates and pomegranates before them. Mar Zutra took fruit and threw a portion before Rav Ashi. Rav Ashi was astounded and said to him: Does the Master not hold with that which was taught in a baraita: One may not throw food? He responded: That was taught with regard to bread, not other foods. Rav Ashi challenged him again: Wasn’t it taught in a baraita: Just as one may not throw bread, so too one may not throw other foods? Mar Zutra said to him: Wasn’t the opposite taught in another baraita: Although one may not throw bread, he may throw other foods?

Rather, that is not difficult, as the two baraitot address two different cases. This baraita, in which it is taught that one may not throw other foods, refers to a food item that becomes disgusting when thrown, whereas that baraita, in which it is taught that one may throw other foods, refers to a food item that does not become disgusting when thrown.

Similarly, the Sages taught: One may draw wine through pipes before a bride and groom as a blessed omen, and one may throw roasted grain and nuts before them in the summer, but not in the rainy season, as in the summer they can be retrieved and eaten, which is not the case in the rainy season. But one may not throw cakes, neither in the summer nor in the rainy season. “ ( translation)

My advice? Play it safe and polite and don’t throw your food at any time.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The bare necessities TB Berachot 49

Back during the days of the Talmud, the text of birkat hamzon, Grace after meals, was fluid. Today’s daf TB Berachot 49 discusses what are the bare necessities one needs to say in order to fulfill his or hers obligation of birkat hamzon. The actual discussion begins at the very bottom of the preceding page TB Berachot 48b.

With regard to the formula of Grace after Meals, the Gemara continues: It was taught in a baraita: Rabbi Eliezer says: Anyone who did not say: A desirable, good, and spacious land in the blessing of the land, and who did not mention the royal house of David in the blessing: Who builds Jerusalem, did not fulfill his obligation. Naḥum the Elder says: One must mention the covenant of circumcision in the blessing of the land. Rabbi Yosei says: One must mention the Torah in the blessing of the land. Pelimu, one of the last tanna’im (tanna’m are rabbis who are in the Mishna, terminus end date 200 C.E. and amora’im are rabbis who are in the Gemara, terminus end date 500 C.E. gg), says: He must make mention of the covenant of circumcision preceding mention of the Torah, as this, the Torah, was given to the Jewish people with three covenants, and that, the covenant of circumcision, was given with thirteen covenants, as the word brit, covenant, appears thirteen times in the portion dealing with the circumcision of Abraham (Genesis 17:1–14).

Rabbi Abba says: One must mention thanks in the blessing of thanksgiving in Grace after Meals at the beginning and the end of the blessing. And one who decreases the number of expressions of thanksgiving may not decrease their number to fewer than one, and if anyone decreases their number to fewer than one, it is reprehensible.

The Gemara added that the conclusions of the blessing of the land and the blessing: Who builds Jerusalem, may also not be changed. Anyone who concludes the blessing of the land: Who bequeaths lands and concludes the blessing: Who builds Jerusalem, with the formula: Who redeems Israel, is an ignoramus, as he thereby corrupts the intention of the blessing. And anyone who does not mention covenant and Torah in the blessing of the land and the royal house of David in the blessing: Who builds Jerusalem, did not fulfill his obligation.

The Gemara notes: This baraita supports the opinion of Rabbi Il’a, as Rabbi Il’a said that Rabbi Ya’akov bar Aḥa said in the name of Rabbeinu, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi: Anyone who did not mention covenant and Torah in the blessing of the land and the royal house of David in the blessing: Who builds Jerusalem, did not fulfill his obligation. ( translation)

Different branches of the Conservative Movement have formulated different abridged versions of birkat hamazon keeping in mind the halachot found on today’s daf. I personally like the one found in the Israeli siddur Ani Tefilati published by the Mesorati movement.

The text for the second blessing of birkat hamazon reads: “We thank you Adonai our God, because you have given us a good and spacious land, brit (covenant), Torah, life, and sustenance.” The third blessing is: “Have mercy, Adonai our God, for Israel your people, for Jerusalem your city, for Zion the dwelling place of Your glory, for the great and holy Temple where your name was called upon, and return the kingdom of the house of David to its rightful place in our day…” (My translation)

Since the destruction of our Second Temple in the year 70 CE by the Romans, our classical liturgy describes Jerusalem as destroyed, forlorn, and bereft of its Jewish inhabitants. Almost nothing else could be farther than the truth in 2020. Jerusalem is a big, bustling and growing city. I often joke that the official bird of Jerusalem is the “building crane.” Since God’s seal is truth, I believe that we are forbidden to lie when we pray. Consequently, this new addition to birkat hamazon is the reason I like Ani Tefilati’s abridged version the best. “Complete the building of Jerusalem the City of Holiness soon. Praised are You Adonai, who builds Jerusalem…” (My translation)

To that let us all say, “Amen!”

Thursday, February 20, 2020

What is a congregant going to do? TB Berachot 48

Today’s daf TB Berachot 48 is worth reading in the English (follow this link: You will study the source of many different halachot which you may or may not be familiar with. Here are several examples. Anybody may join in in a zimmun if he or she has eaten any kind of food. However, only one who has eaten an olive size of bread (approximately 40 g) may lead the zimmun. There is a debate and how many people need to eat bread to qualify for a minyan and add God’s name in the invitation. Is the minimum six people or seven people? How old do you have to be to be eligible to join the zimmun? A minor who knows enough to Whom one recites a blessing is included in a zimmun.

The Gemara goes on to teach us who instituted the first four blessings of birkat hamazon, Grace after meals.

With regard to the origins of the four blessings of Grace after Meals, Rav Naḥman said:
Moses instituted for Israel the first blessing of: Who feeds all, when the manna descended for them and they needed to thank God.
Joshua instituted the blessing of the land when they entered Eretz Yisrael.
David and Solomon instituted the third blessing: Who builds Jerusalem, in the following manner:
David instituted “…on Israel Your people and on Jerusalem Your city…” as he conquered the city,
and Solomon instituted “…on the great and Holy Temple…” as he was the one who built the Temple.
They instituted the blessing: Who is good and does good, at Yavne in reference to the slain Jews of the city of Beitar at the culmination of the bar Kokheva rebellion. They were ultimately brought to burial after a period during which Hadrian refused to permit their burial. As Rav Mattana said: On the same day that the slain of Beitar were brought to burial, they instituted the blessing: Who is good and does good, at Yavne. Who is good, thanking God that the corpses did not decompose while awaiting burial, and does good, thanking God that they were ultimately brought to burial. ( translation)

But that’s not what I really want to share with you today. On daf 48a Tosefot describes what they call a minhag shtut, a dumb or ludicrous custom. Perhaps you have heard of it or even seen it in action. If you have nine people and a minor and the minor is holding a Humash, the minor completes the minyan for the purposes of prayer. It all begins on the preceding page TB Berachot 47b.  Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi makes an astounding statement. “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Although a minor lying in a cradle is not included in a zimmun, one may make him an adjunct to complete an assembly of ten people, enabling them to invoke God’s name in a zimmun.” ( translation)

As I wrote yesterday Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s opinion was rejected as halacha to be followed. Since in the Gemara the topic of a minyan for Grace after meals and for prayer services were intermixed and sometimes gathering a minyan for services was difficult, Tosefot writes on daf 48a that “there are those who incorporate a minor for prayer if he will be holding a Humash, a printed Torah, in his hand. Rebbenu Tam decrees that this is a minhag shtut for if an Ark with Torah scrolls isn’t a human being, how can a Humash be a human being?!” (My translation)

Rabbi Moses Isserlis, who adapted Joseph Karo’s Shulchan Aruch for the Ashkenazi diaspora begrudgingly admits that this custom still existed in his time, writing in Orech Chayim 55:4: “and even if he has a Humash in his hand he is not joined (to the 9 to make a minyan), although there those who follow this practice to be lenient in a time of need. (The Rosh and Mordechai and Hagahot Maimini chapter 9 of the Laws of Prayer” ( translation)

The Beair Hatav comments that “even in a time of need the minor doesn’t have to be holding the Humash. But davka only one minor and not two. The Lavush didn’t see this practice to join a minor even in a time of need. In our day we do have the custom joining a minor with a Humash in his hand (for the sake of a minyan). This only applies to hearing the barachu and the kaddish which are obligatory; however, the kaddish after aleinu is not said even in a time of need. The Bach writes those that the minor davka has to be holding a scroll like a Sefer Torah not like our printed Humashim (plural for Humash) to join the other 9 to make a minyan. Because of this, Zikeinu the Gaon of blessed memory wrote that the halachic practice is not to permit a minor to join to make a minyan. (My translation)

So there are those who permit a minor to make a minyan even if he isn’t holding a Humash. There those places that he must hold a Humash to be counted in a minyan. And there those who forbid this all the time and even call it a minhag shut. So what’s a congregant going to do? Simple. Ask your Rabbi.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Some things never change TB Berachot 47

Today’s daf TB Berachot 47 reaffirms the old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Jews throughout the ages all have had the same problems.

In many synagogues including mine, don’t have a minyan at the start of services. Sometimes I have to wait for our 10th person to say the barachu, the call to worship. Sometimes I even have to wait until we reach the Torah service. I kiddingly say that my members come to shul just like the Israelites when they crossed through the Sea of Reeds, “yiddle by yiddle.” Perhaps Jews in Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi also arrived based on Jewish time because he encourages people to the synagogue on time.

“In praise of a quorum of ten, the Gemara states that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: One should always rise early to go to the synagogue in order to have the privilege and be counted among the first ten to complete the quorum, as even if one hundred people arrive after him, he receives the reward of them all, as they are all joining that initial quorum. The Gemara is perplexed: Does it enter your mind that he receives the reward of them all? Why should he take away their reward? Rather, emend the statement and say: He receives a reward equivalent to the reward of them all.” ( translation)

Sometimes just getting 10 people has been impossible. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked, “Rabbi, can’t we open up the ark and count the Torah for the 10th.” They probably didn’t know the source of this idea. Now you do because it can be found in today’s daf.

“With regard to the laws of joining a quorum, Rav Huna said: Nine plus an ark in which the Torah scrolls are stored join to form a quorum of ten. Rav Naḥman said to him: Is an ark a man, that it may be counted in the quorum of ten? Rather, Rav Huna said: Nine who appear like ten may join together. There was disagreement over this: Some said this halakha as follows: Nine appear like ten when they are gathered. And some said this halakha as follows: Nine appear like ten when they are scattered, the disagreement being which formation creates the impression of a greater number of individuals. ( translation)”

After listing several other leniencies concerning the lack of the required number of people to make a zimmun, “The Gemara concludes: The halakha is not in accordance with all of these lien leniencies. Rather, the halakha is in accordance with this statement that Rav Naḥman said: A minor who knows to Whom one recites a blessing is included in a zimmun.” ( translation) Sorry, and ark full of Torah scrolls just doesn’t add up to one human being.

Make your rabbi happy by coming to shul to make a minyan for services. Coming on time would be an added bonus.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Who's up first and who's batting cleanup?

Where’s Emily Post when we need her? Today’s daf TB Berachot 46 teaches different aspects of meal etiquette. We all know that there is a blessing before we eat, hamotzi, and Grace after meals, birkat hamazon, when we have finished eating. With guests and family sitting around the Shabbat or Yom Tov table, who is honored with the motzi and who is honored with birkat hamazon? The Gemara tells the story that answers our etiquette question.

The Gemara recounts: Rabbi Zeira took ill. Rabbi Abbahu went to visit him and resolved: If the little man with the scorched legs, a nickname for Rabbi Zeira, is cured, I will make a festival, a feast, for the Sages. Rabbi Zeira was cured and Rabbi Abbahu made a feast for all the Sages. When it came time to break bread, Rabbi Abbahu said to Rabbi Zeira: Master, please break bread for us. Rabbi Zeira said to him: Doesn’t the Master hold in accordance with that halakha of Rabbi Yoḥanan, who said: The host breaks bread? Rabbi Abbahu broke bread for them. When the time came to recite the blessing, Rabbi Abbahu said to Rabbi Zeira: Master, recite Grace after Meals on our behalf. Rabbi Zeira said to him: Doesn’t the Master hold in accordance with that halakha of Rabbi Huna of Babylonia, who said: He who breaks bread recites Grace after Meals?

The Gemara asks: And in accordance with whose opinion does Rabbi Abbahu hold that he asked Rabbi Zeira to recite Grace after Meals? The Gemara answers: Rabbi Abbahu holds in accordance with that halakha that Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: The host breaks bread and a guest recites Grace after Meals. The host breaks bread so that he will break bread generously, whereas a guest might be embarrassed to break a large piece for himself and other guests; and the guest recites Grace after Meals so that he may bless the host in the course of reciting Grace after Meals, as the Gemara proceeds to explain. ( translation)

That’s the answer to our question. A good host should give generous portions and a guest should bless the host for opening up his home to him. The Gemara goes on to suggest the wording of this blessing.

What is the formula of the blessing with which the guest blesses his host?
May it be Your will that the master of the house shall not suffer shame in this world, nor humiliation in the World-to-Come. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi added to it elements pertaining to material success:
And may he be very successful with all his possessions,
and may his possessions and our possessions be successful and near the city,
and may Satan control neither his deeds nor our deeds,
and may no thought of sin, iniquity, or transgression stand before him or before us
from now and for evermore. ( translation)

For reasons unknown to me, this blessing formulation never entered the birkat hamazon liturgy. I think a blessing like this is certainly appropriate for us today. How would you bless your host thanking him/her for his/her hospitality and generosity?