Friday, March 27, 2009

Laws of Pesah 5769

Back by popular demand, and simplified quite a bit this time. You can download the PDF Version or read it below. The original footnoted version can also be made available upon request (if you would like a copy, email me, and please be patient!).

קיצור הלכות פסח
Essential Laws of Pesah by Rabbi J. Maroof

איסור החמץ - The Prohibition of Hametz

1. On Pesah we are not permitted to eat or to possess any hametz. This includes any food product that contains one of the five grains (wheat, barley, oats, rye or spelt) or one of their many derivatives, unless it has been properly supervised for Pesah use.

2. In addition to the prohibition of eating and possessing hametz, the Torah prohibits us to benefit from it in any way. Therefore, we may not sell it, present it as a gift or feed it to any animals on Pesah.

3. Containers of condiments and spreads like butter, cream cheese and fruit preserves that have been opened and used with hametz should be thrown out and new ones purchased for Pesah.

4. Since spices, oils and other additives are sometimes poured directly into a pot over the fire and may have absorbed hametz from its steam, one should purchase new, unopened ones for Pesah. However, the old ones do not need to be thrown out or sold, just put away.

5. The prohibition of hametz also requires us to treat all of the pots, pans, utensils and other cookware that have been used with hametz as non-Kosher for Pesah use.

6. In addition to the restriction on eating actual hametz, Ashkenazim also refrain from eating kitniyot (‘legumes’, such as rice, corn, and beans) during Pesah. However, they are permitted to possess kitniyot and may utilize pots, pans, dishes and utensils that have been used with kitniyot.

7. The restriction on kitniyot only applies to foods that are primarily made up of kitniyot. Food products that contain less than fifty percent kitniyot AND in which the kitniyot are not recognizable, like soft drinks that contain corn syrup, are permitted even for Ashkenazim on Pesah.

8. Sephardim who are accustomed not to eat kitniyot during Pesah may discontinue their custom if they want to. Ideally, they should ‘annul’ the custom before a Jewish court (bet din).

9. Nowadays, Sephardim who eat kitniyot such as rice that are packaged commercially are not obligated to check them for traces of hametz because the companies that prepare these products have already purified them. However, if one happens to find a grain of hametz mixed in with rice, it must be removed. If one has already cooked the rice, consult a Rabbi about how to proceed (many factors are involved).

10. Sephardim are permitted to eat ‘egg matza’ on Pesah, provided that it is prepared under proper supervision. Ashkenazim only allow egg matza for the sick and elderly who cannot digest regular matza.

11. Some authorities permit both kitniyot and egg matza even for Ashkenazim on Erev Pesah.

12. Items that are not edible, such as shoe polish, aluminum foil, glue, cosmetics, toiletries, shampoos and medicines do not need to be kosher for Pesah (or in general), because they are not foods. Pet food, however, must be kosher for Pesah, because it is considered an edible item.

13. The prohibition of eating hametz will begin on the eve of Pesah – Wednesday, April 8th - in Rockville, Maryland at 11:01 AM this year (in NYC, 10:48 AM). The prohibition to possess, sell or otherwise benefit from hametz will begin at 12:06 PM (in NYC, 11:53 AM).

בדיקת חמץ- The Search for Hametz

1. On the night before Pesah begins – this year, Tuesday, April 7th - every Jew is required to search their property for any hametz. The search should be a genuine, serious inspection for hametz, not a ritualistic walk through the house with a feather and a candle.

2. The search for hametz should begin twenty minutes after sunset or as soon as possible thereafter.

3. Before the search, we recite the appropriate beracha (found either in the Haggada or Pesah prayerbook) and proceed to inspect all areas that we may have brought hametz into during the year. This includes our homes, cars, offices, coat pockets, etc.

4. A flashlight should be used during the search so that one can inspect all of the necessary areas with sufficient lighting.

5. There is no need for ‘spring cleaning’ during the search for hametz. One should concentrate on finding substantial pieces of hametz (like a cookie or pretzel) rather than sweeping up crumbs. If there is extra time, removing even smaller bits of hametz is an enhancement of the mitzvah.

6. After the search for hametz, one should gather all the hametz one intends to save for dinner or breakfast and keep it in one place.

7. When the search for hametz is concluded, one must say the nullification of hametz (‘bittul hametz’) formula found in the Haggada or Mahazor. The nullification statement is repeated in a slightly different form in the morning, right after one destroys or eats the last of one’s hametz.

8. If one is going away for the holiday before the night of the search but is leaving less than a month before Pesah one must conduct a proper search for hametz without a beracha on the last night that one is still home. One should recite the nighttime ‘bittul hametz’ formula immediately after the search, but should wait until erev Pesah to make the daytime “bittul” statement.

ערב פסח - The Eve of Pesah

1. On the eve of Pesah – this year, Wednesday, April 8th - it is prohibited to eat matza, so that the matza eaten at the seder will be special. Egg matza is permitted for Sephardim as well as for those Ashkenazim who are lenient in this matter on Erev Pesah.

2. It is customary that every firstborn male fasts on the eve of Pesah. The fast may be broken if one attends a ‘Siyum Masechet’, a celebration held when somebody completes the study of an entire tractate of the Talmud.

3. Where possible, first born females should attend the Siyum as well, since many authorities maintain that they are also obligated to fast.

4. One is not permitted to begin work projects that are very involved after midday on Erev Pesah so that one can fully devote one’s energy to preparing for the seder.

5. Beginning about two and a half hours before sunset on Erev Pesah, one is not permitted to eat the equivalent of a meal (even of egg matza), so that he/she will be hungry enough to enjoy dining at the seder. Snacks of fruits and vegetables are permitted.

ערוב תבשילין - Eruv Tavshilin

1. On Yom Tov, it is prohibited to make preparations for any other day. Therefore, When Yom Tov falls on a Friday we are required to create an Eruv Tavshilin in order to permit us to prepare for Shabbat. The Eruv must be prepared before the holiday begins.

2. The Eruv Tavshilin is made by taking a cooked dish (like a hard boiled egg) and a piece of matza and then reciting the beracha and declaration written in the machzor or haggada.

3. It is preferable to recite the Eruv declaration in a language that one understands.

4. When Yom Tov falls out on a Thursday and Friday, preparations for Shabbat may only be made on Friday, despite the fact that the Eruv was created on Wednesday.

5. When preparing for Shabbat on Yom Tov, one should complete one’s preparations early in the afternoon so that it is not obvious that one is using Yom Tov to prepare for Shabbat.

6. It is customary to eat the Eruv Tavshilin at Seudah Shelishit on Shabbat.

הכשר כלים -Kashering Vessels

1. Many people keep separate sets of cookware and utensils for Pesah use. If, however, one wishes to use one’s year-round kitchenware for Pesah, it must first undergo a process of ‘kashering’. In order to avoid complications, it is best to complete this process before hametz becomes prohibited (i.e., before 11:01 AM on April 8th this year).

2. Only metal, stone, wood and plastic vessels can be kashered. Items made from earthenware, such as china, cannot be kashered.

3. Sephardim do not require any kashering for glass and Pyrex vessels and are permitted to use them after a thorough cleaning. Ashkenazim treat these items like earthenware and prohibit their use for Pesah unless they have been used exclusively with cold food.

4. The method used to kasher an item is always based on the way in which the item is used. A vessel that is used for cooking liquidy substances, such as a pot, should be kashered by boiling water in it and then dropping a hot rock or hot piece of metal into it so that it boils over on all sides. Utensils such as soup ladles and carving knives that are placed directly into hot pots are kashered by completely submerging them in a pot filled with boiling water. Serving platters and strainers that have food poured onto them from hot pots are generally kashered in this way as well.

5. After kashering a vessel with boiling water, it is customary to rinse the item off with cold water.

6. Customs differ with regard to kashering vessels that are used for eating hot food but have no direct contact with hot cookware (for example, forks, spoons, knives, etc.) Sephardim may kasher these utensils by cleaning them thoroughly and then running them through a regular cycle in a kosher-for-Pesah dishwasher. Ashkenazim require all vessels that come into contact with hot food to be kashered through placement in a pot of boiling hot water.

7. According to Ashkenazic practice, a vessel must be left unused for 24 hours before being purged with boiling water for Pesah use. Sephardim are only required to observe this stringency in two cases: (1) when kashering a microwave and (2) when kashering meat and dairy vessels together in the same vat. However, it is meritorious for Sephardim to follow the stringent practice in all cases if possible.

8. Before a vessel can be kashered with boiling water, it must be totally clean. When cleaning a vessel to prepare it for kashering, one may come across food substances that adhere to it and cannot be removed. In such cases, simply apply a caustic cleaner such as bleach or detergent to the substance in order to render it inedible.

9. A vessel upon which dry food is directly placed to cook, like a grill or baking pan, should be kashered by cleaning it carefully and then heating it until it is red hot (libun). This is the most intense form of kashering, and vessels kashered in this way do not need to be left unused for 24 hours beforehand.

10. Vessels used for cold food only, such as goblets for Kiddush or cups used for cold drinks, need only to be rinsed with water and are permitted for Pesah use.

11. According to Sephardim, if a vessel is used in different ways at different times, the method of kashering that is applied will follow the primary usage. For example, if a pot normally used for cooking liquidy foods were used for dry cooking once or twice, it would still be kashered by boiling water inside. Similarly, if a fork normally used for eating was used to stir a pot over the fire a couple of times, it could still be kashered by a run through the dishwasher. However, if the vessel was used in a more intense way than usual during the past 24 hours, the more intense method of kashering must be applied.

12. Ashkenazim always kasher based on the most intense way that the vessel has been used with food, even if it has been used that way only once. Therefore, in the two cases mentioned in Law #11, the pot would need to be heated until red hot and the fork would need to be placed in a pot of boiling water.

13. If one carefully cleans one’s oven racks and covers all food placed in the oven with single sheets of tin foil, there is no need to kasher the oven because there is no way for food cooked in the oven to absorb hametz from it.

14. If one does decide to kasher an oven, self-cleaning is perfectly acceptable. If one’s oven does not have a self-cleaning option, one should carefully clean the racks and walls of the oven and then - after leaving it unused for 24 hours - place the oven on its highest temperature setting for one hour.

15. For Sephardim, the grates on which pots are placed on a gas or electric stovetop need only to be spotlessly cleaned to be kosher for Pesah. As an added measure of stringency, some Sephardim also place them into a pot of boiling hot water.

16. After cleaning the grates, Ashkenazim are required to heat them to the temperature at which a tissue that touched them would ignite.

17. Sephardim may kasher dishwashers, regardless of the material they are made of, by leaving them unused for 24 hours and then running them (without dishes inside) through at least one complete cycle with detergent. Ideally, for Ashkenazim, three complete dishwasher cycles should be run (only one needs to include detergent). The racks do not need to be changed.

18. For Sephardim, sinks, countertops and tabletops require nothing more than a careful cleaning to be kosher for Pesah (however, please be sure to consult Law #20.) Some Sephardim are stringent with sinks and, in addition to cleaning them, pour boiling hot water over them

19. Ashkenazim are advised not to use their sinks, countertops or tabletops without kashering them first. They should either (1) not use these items with anything hot for 24 hours and then pour boiling water over them OR (2) simply clean and then cover them.

20. If a sink, countertop, tabletop or stove grate is known to have had contact with hot hametz during the past 24 hours, then Sephardim are required to kasher them according to the same standards as Ashkenazim.

21. Dish sponges and toothbrushes should be cleaned thoroughly with hot water or replaced for the holiday.

22. A microwave can be kashered by leaving it over for 24 hours, cleaning the inside thoroughly and then heating a dish of water in the microwave until it is filled with steam.

23. Refrigerators and cabinets need only to be wiped down with water to be kosher for Pesah. Dish strainers on which clean dishes are placed to dry do not require any kashering at all.

24. If one is not planning on using a particular vessel or appliance for Pesah, it does not require any kashering. Non-Pesah vessels should be cleaned and put away, preferably in a cabinet that is taped up or locked.

ליל הסדר - The Seder Night

1. One may not begin the Pesah Seder until at least 45 minutes after sunset.

2. Men, women and children are obligated to fulfill all the mitzvot of the night. It is especially important for children to have the Haggada explained to them.

3. The custom of Sephardim is to use red wine for the Four Cups, even if superior white wine is available. The custom of Ashkenazim is to use red wine unless a superior white wine is available.

4. The minimum amount of wine that must be contained in each of the four cups is approximately 3 fluid ounces. One must drink more than half of each cup (about 1.6 fl. oz.) to fulfill the mitzvah.

5. Almost any vegetable may be used for karpas, provided that its blessing is bore peri ha-adama. One should make sure that any vegetables eaten at the Seder (and all year round) have been carefully inspected for bugs.

6. It is preferable to use handmade matza shemura for the Seder. However, machine-made shemura is also acceptable.

7. It is ideal to use Romaine lettuce for Maror.

8. Everyone participating in the Seder is required to lean to the left when drinking any of the four cups or eating the matza, korech, or the afikoman. If a man forgot to lean while performing one of the mitzvot he must go back and redo it. Women may be lenient and need not repeat the mitzvah.

9. Sephardim recite the beracha of Borei Pri Hagefen only on the first and third cups. Ashkenazim say a beracha on all four cups.

10. The most essential part of the Haggada is “Rabban Gamliel Haya Omer”, in which the special mitzvot of the night are explained.

11. The minimum amount of matza that must be eaten for each mitzva is a little more than one third of a medium size handmade matza. However, for motzi matza on the first night, one should eat at least half of a handmade matza.The minimum amount of maror one must eat for each mitzvah is approximately 28 grams.

12. One should make every effort to complete the entire Seder, including Hallel, before “midnight” (in Rockville this year, 1:11 AM; in NYC, 12:58 AM). If this is not possible, one should at least eat the afikoman before this time.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Can Women Issue Halakhic Rulings?

I was recently asked to respond to the question of whether a woman who is knowledgeable in Torah Law may issue rulings on matters of halakha. My answer, in brief, is contained in this post; I apologize in advance for my uncharacteristic use of Hebrew letters and terminology, I have not had a chance to translate the relevant "lingo" from the original document into English just yet.

(Incidentally, you can read the entire paper, complete with footnotes, here.)

There is a paucity of classical source material addressing the question of whether qualified women can render halakhic decisions, i.e., give הוראה. However, what material does exist is uniformly and clearly in support of the permissibility of women being halakhic decisors (מורות הוראה). For example, the ספר החינוך in פרשת שמיני מצוה קנ"ח writes that the prohibition of giving הוראה while intoxicated applies both to men and to women who are qualified to rule on halakhic issues.

Furthermore, the ברכי יוסף, written by the renowned sage מרן החיד"א and cited approvingly in פתחי תשובה חו"מ סימן ז' ס"ק ה states unequivocally that, although women are not permitted to serve as judges on a rabbinical court, a knowledgeable woman may issue decisions on matters of halakha. Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Harav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, concurs with this view in his responsa שו"ת בנין אב as did one of his most illustrious predecessors, Harav Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel in both משפטי עוזיאל and פסקי עוזיאל.

The פתחי תשובה points out that this distinction is, in principle, made by the ספר החינוך as well, inasmuch as he states that women are forbidden from serving as judges but nevertheless allows for the possibility of legitimate מורות הוראה who would be required to observe the mitzvah prohibiting them from engaging in halakhic decision-making while under the influence of alcohol.

As the פ"ת mentions, this approach is also supported by תוספות in מסכת נדה דף נ, who argue that, even if Devorah was not permitted to serve as the official judge of the Jewish people, she must at least have instructed the judges in the proper interpretation of the law - i.e., been מורה הוראה to them.

This dichotomy, however, appears problematic. Why should a woman be entitled to render halakhic decisions yet be barred from serving as a judge? In order to understand the answer, we must clarify the fundamental difference between the concepts of הוראה and פסיקת דין and the legal mechanisms by which they operate.

The literal meaning of הוראה is teaching or instruction; indeed, the words הוראה and תורה share the same Hebrew root. Specifically,הוראה refers to the application of the abstract principles of Torah Law to the concrete particulars of life. In essence, then, הוראה is nothing more than a by-product of intensive Torah study. When one develops a thorough and comprehensive theoretical knowledge of an area of Jewish law, and applies that knowledge to the practical exigencies of life, one is basically engaging in הוראה.

This is not to say that all Torah study is created equal. On the contrary, the validity of any הוראה will be a function of the quality of the research and analysis that produced it. Not all explanations are correct, not all interpretations are valid, and not all conclusions are warranted. Even the most distinguished and scholarly Yeshiva students, Rabbis, men and women are subject to occasional error, flaws in reasoning, forgetfulness and bias. As the רמ"א explains in ש"ע יו"ד in סימן רמ"ב סעיף י"ד, both halakha and tradition dictate that one may not rely upon - or encourage others to rely upon - the conclusions that emerge from one’s personal analysis of the Law until one has received explicit permission to do so from one’s teacher. This restriction, similar to secular ‘quality control’ laws that require doctors, lawyers, etc., to receive an accredited education and be licensed before practicing in their fields, prevents students who are insufficiently prepared from adhering to or disseminating their own incorrect rulings prematurely.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that the goal of all learning is to bring the practical implications of Torah to bear upon our lives; therefore, we can safely assert - at least in theory - that every well-executed, sincere and genuine act of תלמוד תורה has the potential to culminate in some kind of הוראה, whether it is a הוראה to oneself or a הוראה to someone else. The essential point here is that the core of any given act of הוראה is the process of Torah study upon which it is based and from which it emerges, and that this process is equally accessible to competent men and to competent women.

Judgment, or פסיקת דין , on the other hand, derives its validity not from the process that produces it but from the stature of the one who issues it. Judgment is, by its very nature, an act of governance (שררה) and an exercise of personal authoritative leadership rather than the outgrowth of a specific act of תלמוד תורה. In this sense, serving as a judge is more akin to receiving the original form of semikha that was conferred from Rabbi to student from the days of Moshe Rabbenu until persecutions led to its discontinuation during the Talmudic period. The quality of being a מוסמך or a בעל המסורה inheres in the recipient, endowing his person with unique legal authority (שררה) and his decisions with legitimacy and binding force.

In the framework of פסיקת דין, then, the legal decisions of the individual are manifestations of the special status with which he is vested and take effect by virtue of that status alone. Since today we lack the authentic Sinaitic ordination, a lone judge cannot arrogate to himself the level of authority once possessed by a יחיד מומחה המוסמך; it is instead granted to the collective of three judges who convene a בית דין. Once the בית דין rules on a case, this ruling cannot be reversed unless a manifest error in the proceedings is discovered. This is because the binding nature of the decision is intrinsic, enshrined by the authority of the team of judges and not contingent upon any other factor.3

Granting a woman this form of political authority, or שררה, is what most Rishonim find objectionable about the prospect of allowing women to serve as judges. Prohibiting women from holding positions of שררה ensures that they remain free from communal obligation so that they can dedicate themselves to maintaining the integrity and sanctity of the Jewish family which was placed in their care by הקב"ה.

We can now understand why women may indeed be מורות הוראה but may not, according to most opinions, hold official positions of שררה such as judgeships. Women are capable of engaging in the study of Torah at high levels and their theories and conclusions deserve to be accorded the same respect and weight as those of their male counterparts. As long as their process of Torah study is legitimate, the הוראות that organically emerge from it are, by definition, legitimate as well. The validity or binding force of a given halakhic conclusion is not contingent upon the political station of its proponent but upon the research and analysis that generated it; espousing such a conclusion neither necessitates nor entails שררה.

In summary, the act of הוראה is essentially an act of learning or teaching and is not a manifestation of an individual’s political authority or שררה at all. Therefore, a competent, knowledgeable and God fearing woman who receives the requisite permission from her teachers is entitled to be מורה הוראה.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Women's Issues

On the heels of Hakham Ovadiah Yosef's recent espousal of liberal views regarding women and Megillah - novel to some but not intrinsically newsworthy since he has been quite candid about his position on these issues for many, many years already - comes an article on the question of the ordination of women as Orthodox Rabbis.

For many years I have planned to write a paper on this very subject including a systematic review and analysis of the relevant halakhic sources (there are a limited number but their implications are quite fascinating). The appearance of this news item has reawakened my interest in doing so in the near future. Perhaps the blogosphere is the ideal venue for its publication, one installment as a time. To be continued, I suppose...