Thursday, 28 May 2020

Starting Shavuos Late

Questions: I know that we do not normally daven maariv on Shavuos night until nacht. As we cannot daven in shul this year, can we not bring Yom Tov in early?
Answer: The Shelah (Shavuos 1) writes that one must not recite kiddush or begin eating one’s Yom Tov meal on the first night of Shavuos until it is nacht, nightfall. As the Torah writes that one must count seven complete weeks of the sefira, bringing Yom Tov early would diminish this. Just as the Gemara (Berachos 27b) teaches that one can daven maariv before Shabbos ends, so too, one can daven before nacht¸ though one must wait to recite kiddush. The Magen Avraham (494:1) and Pri Chadash (OC 494:1) pasken this way, too.
The Yosef Ometz (850) notes that he never witnessed this in Germany. Additionally, by doing so, it takes away from how much one can learn on Shavuos night. Likewise, the Korban Nesanel (Pesachim 10:2) writes that one does not need to wait until nacht to recite kiddush and begin their meal.
The Mishna Berura (261:19; Biur Halacha 261) writes that there is a machlokes as to whether the mitzva of tosefes Shabbos, to add on a little bit of time both at the beginning and at the end of Shabbos (Rosh Hashana 9a; Yuma 81b) is miderabanan or mideoraisa. The Avnei Nezer (OC 316:12) writes that the mitzva is mideoraisa and applies equally to bringing Yom Tov in early. Thus, R’ Yaakov Emden (Siddur Yaavetz, Shavuos 4) writes that in order to fulfil tosefes Yom Tov one should daven maariv early.
Nonetheless, the Taz (OC 494:1), Shulchan Aruch Harav (OC 494:2) and the Mishna Berura (494:1) write that one shouldn’t even daven maariv before nacht.
R’ Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Haamek Davar, Vayikra 23:21) explains that the reason for waiting until nacht is because the Torah writes that Shavuos should be observed on that same day.
In conclusion, it is important to wait until nacht to begin Yom Tov and daven on Shavuos.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Cutting Tzitzis with Scissors

Question: Is it true that one mustn’t use regular scissors to cut tzitzis?
Answer: The Torah (Devarim 27:5) prohibits use of metal implements in hewing out stones for building the mizbe’ach. The Mishna (Middos 3:4) teaches that one mustn’t even use a metal trowel to apply plaster to the stones. Since iron was created to form weapons which shorten lives, it is not befitting to use iron for the mizbe’ach which was created to prolong lives. The Ramban (Shemos 20:22) explains that this is why the foundational sockets were made from copper rather than iron. R’ Simcha Rabinowitz (Piskei Teshuvos 11:29) notes that tzitzis also serves to prolong lives (See Shabbos 32b).
The Shulchan Aruch (OC 11:12) writes that one should trim the tzitzis before inserting them into the begged. Nonetheless, the Rema (OC 11:4) writes that if they are too long, one can cut them even once they have been tied.
The Magen Avraham (11:18) writes that lechatchila one should avoid using a metal knife to cut them. One should rather use their teeth instead. The Shulchan Aruch Harav (OC 11:24) quotes the passuk about using iron implements, comparing tzitzis to a mizbe’ach (See Mishna Berura 11:61).
Elsewhere, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 180:5) writes that one should cover up one’s knives when reciting birkas hamazon. The Magen Avraham (180:4) explains that this serves to remind us that our tables are comparable to the mizbe’ach. He adds that it is only knives made from iron that would be problematic, but other materials would be fine. Thus, R’ Rabinowitz writes that if necessary, one can use knives or scissors made from other materials.
In conclusion, it is ideal to use something other than steel scissors to cut one’s tzitzis.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Looking at the Havdala Candle

Question: I watched a Rabbi sing havdala online and noticed that he looked at his hands before saying the beracha over the candle. Don’t we usually recite the beracha before performing the mitzva or benefitting from anything?
Answer: The Mishna (Berachos 51b) teaches that one shouldn’t recite the beracha of meorai haeish unless they benefit from the light of the candle. The Gemara (Berachos 53b) cites a machlokes as to whether one needs to benefit from the light or if it is sufficient for it to be bright, and a further machlokes as to what is considered benefitting. Following this, Rambam (Shabbos 29:25) and the Shulchan Aruch (OC 289:4) write that one needs to actually benefit from the flame and it must be bright enough that one can differentiate between different types of currency. The Tur (OC 298:1) notes that nowadays we look at our hands, particularly as we don’t have money on us.
R’ Asher Weiss (Bereishis 2:2) explains that there is a machlokes as to how to classify the beracha of meorai haeish said over the flame. According to the Kol Bo (41) it is considered to be a birchas hanehenin, a beracha that one says before partaking of something such as food. Tosafos (Pesachim 53b) and Ramban (Berachos 51b) write, however, that this beracha serves simply to remind us that fire was created on motzaei Shabbos. Alternately, R’ Weiss suggests that it may be a beracha of shevach, praise.
Following this, there is a machlokes as to whether we say the beracha before or after looking at our hands. The Taz (298:2) writes that according to the Shibolei Haleket (Shabbos 130) one would look at one’s hands before reciting the beracha. The Mishna Berura (296:31) also writes that this is the correct order.
R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 5:9:9) however (in a teshuva to Dayan Krausz), challenges this, writing that common practice is to recite the beracha first and that is how the Yaavetz and Gra paskened (See Rivevos Ephraim 3:286:1).
In conclusion, while some people say the beracha after looking at their hands, the mainstream practice is to recite the beracha first.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Watching Havdala Online

Question: I ran out of grape juice on Shabbos and so don’t have enough for havdala. Can I be yotze by watching someone saying it live online?
Answer: The Mishna (Rosh Hashana 3:7) teaches that one who blew a shofar into a barrel only fulfils their obligation to listen to the shofar if they hear the actual sound rather than an echo. The poskim discuss whether a phone or microphone with (virtually) no delay is equivalent to hearing the actual sound or not.
R’ Chaim Elazar Shapira (Minchas Elazar 2:72) and R’ Zvi Pesach Frank (quoted in Minchas Yitzchak 2:113) allow one to use a microphone for mitzvos derabannan.
R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 2:108; 4:91:4) writes, however, that as the electronic sound produced is not the actual human voice, it is not ideal to listen to the megillah through a microphone. Nonetheless, bedieved one fulfils their obligation this way. Likewise, he allowed a woman in hospital to fulfil her obligation to hear havdala over the phone when there was no other choice (See Shevet Halevi 5:84). Similarly, R’ Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 8:11) permits one to use a microphone for patients in hospital to be able to listen to the megilla when necessary (See Minchas Yitzchak 2:113).
R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, however, disagrees, writing that one cannot fulfil one’s obligation of havdala or megillah over the microphone or phone, even bedieved. He writes that he does not understand how other poskim could have allowed it, comparing the sound heard to witnessing seeing a crime in the reflection of the mirror which cannot be admitted as evidence in beis din. R’ Yitzchak Yaakov Weisz (Minchas Yitzchak 3:38:16), R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer OC 1:19:18; Yechave Daas 3:54) and R’ Moshe Sternbuch (Moadim Uzemanim 6:105) agree, explaining that the electronic sound produced is not the actual voice.
The Shulchan Aruch (OC 296:2) writes that one may use chamar medina, popular beverage for havdala. Thus, one may use tea or coffee for havdala (See Aruch Hashulchan OC 272:14; Igros Moshe OC 2:75; Tzitz Eliezer 8:16; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 4:77).
In conclusion, one does not fulfil their obligation of havdala by watching online or listening over the phone. Rather, one should recite it over a cup of coffee or tea if necessary.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Holding Havdala

Question: I have always held the wine in my right hand while reciting havdala. Last week, I watched a Rabbi making havdala online and saw him switch hands in the middle. What is the ideal way of doing this?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (OC 296:6) writes that when reciting havdala one should begin by holding the wine in their right hand and the besamim in their left hand until they reach the beracha on besamim at which point they should switch hands, holding the besamim in their right hand. The Mishna Berura (306:18) explains that as one’s right hand is considered to be more prominent, one should use it to hold mitzva items while reciting the appropriate beracha.
The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 296:17), however, explains that this isn’t strictly necessary as nowadays we place the besamim and candle on the table in front of us. Rather, one should simply hold each one in their right hand as they recite the beracha. Thus, when saying the beracha on besamim¸ one should put the cup down and pick up the besamim. R’ Nosson Gestetner (Lehoros Nosson 8:17) quotes the Beis Yosef (OC 206) who writes that it is sufficient for the cup of wine to be in front of them on the table while reciting kiddush. Likewise, one would not have to specifically hold the besamim or candle, providing they were on the table in front of them. Similarly, R’ Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 3:92) writes that when the Shulchan Aruch writes that one should hold the wine in one’s left hand, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one cannot put it down.
In conclusion, one should hold the besamim and candle in one’s right hand while reciting the appropriate beracha, though one can put the wine down in front of them while doing so.