Shmittah Weekly: A Historical Overview

29 04 2014


I will be writing a Shmittah blog based on the shiurim of Rav Yoni Rosensweig and Rav Doniel Schreiber.
I’ll be posting them on the ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook page I manage, on our website – and Tweeting them on @MyShteiblech .

Overview and Historical Background to Shmittah

-We don’t know much about Mitzvot Shetluyot Ba’aretz. They weren’t developed properly. Isn’t Massechet Bavli on Shviit, just Yerushalmi. Material isn’t as developed as other parts of Halacha. Therefore the issues are more open to discussion and interpretation.

-Is Shmitta D’Oraita or D’Rabbanan-Will discuss next shiur. Big issue as it’s ONLY if Shmittah is D’Rabbanan that Heter Mechirah can work. If Shmittah is DÓraita, then Heter Mechirah can’t work.

-Is Shmitta on a D’Oraita level dependent on Yovel? Are Shmitta and Yovel interconnected? Will discuss next shiur.

-Shmitta being D’Oraita is dependent on the number-Rov (the majority of Jews) Yehudim living in Eretz Yisrael as well as other issues.

-Until the Churban of the 1st Bet Mikdash, there were 117 Shmitot and 16 Yovlot.

-After Churban Bayit Sheni they stopped counting the Yovel. Also, stopped keeping Shmitta on a national level. Individuals living in Eretz Yisrael DID keep the Halachot of Shmittah, between Churban Bayit Sheni and Shivat Tzion in the 19th century.

-In the (14th after Gerush Sfarad were attempts to renew the Shmitta laws-R’Yosef Cairo, Ari.

-Shmitta became an issue with Shivat Tzion – in Yishuvim like Petach Tikva in 1878.

big shmittah

-1882-First Shmitta year on a national level since the Churban Bayit Sheni.

-In 1889, Shmitta became a topic again people wrote about and discussed.

The Heter Mechirah was well before Rav Kook. Rav Mordechi Gimpel, The Bet Halevi (Yoshe Beer Soloveichik), The Chazon Ish, Rav Diskin, Rav Shmuel Salant, Rav Yosef Zecharia Shtern, and the Netziv (1887) were against it. The Netziv was against for two reasons-he held Shmitta was D’Oraita and because of ‘Lo Techanem’-you can’t sell parts of Eretz Yisrael to goyim.

-Rav Yitzchak Elchanan of Kovno was for Heter Mechirah.

-Rav Yisrael Yehoshua Kutner, Rav Shmuel Bi’alistok and Rav Shmuel Zanvil of Varsha only allowed the Heter Mechorah based on four conditions: 1) It was only for that Shmittah not following years, 2) R’Yitzchak Elchanan agreed, 3) the Rabbanei Yerushalyim agreed, and 4) the goyim and not the Jews worked the land. The Sefardim also held of the Heter Mechirah (as did Rav Ovadia Yosef).

-Vegetables in the Shmittah year have a separate problem of ‘Sefichim’.

-In 1903 Rav Diskin died, Rav Kook allowed Heter Mechirah.

-Rav Goren-better not to use Heter Mechirah.

Nowadays: As the majority of Israelis are secular and would not keep Kedushat Shviit, better to apply Heter Mechirah and avoid them breaking the laws of Shmittah.

Ironically, the Chazon Ish was against Heter Mechirah but meykil on Hilchot Shmittah, whilst Rav Kook was for the Heter Mechirah but more machmir on the Halachot of Shmittah.

Next week- Is Shmittah DÓraita or D’Rabbanan.

If you have any articles you have written you would like me to post on ‘My Shteiblech’, please send them to me .

Benjy Singer.
Founder of ‘My Shteiblech’.


Pesach Afterthought: Yearning and Faith.

22 04 2014


Rabbi Jonathan Sacks when discussing why we had to go through a period of slavery before becoming a nation suggests that in order to fully appreciate freedom and all the opportunities it brings with it, we had to experience slavery. In order to fully value what you have been blessed with, often you need to realize what it’s like to be lacking it. Often Baalei Teshuva have a much greater love for Judaism and learning, as they know first hand what life is like without it.

If we think throughout Pesach, yearning is a central theme. During the second part of Leil Ha’Seder we are yearning and looking forward to the future redemption and the rebuilding of Yerushalayim.

Shir Hashirim on a Pshat level, is about the ‘Dod’ and ‘Raaya’ yearning to find each other. But the sad fact is, that they could have met properly and at least tried to make something out of it – but they did not. They didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that life presented them with. If you don’t read Shir Hashirim with Rashi’s explanation, on a Pshat level, at the end of the story the ‘Dod’ flees and they both remain alone – and they only have themselves to blame.

The real tragedy in Shir Hashirim is that the ‘Dod’ and ‘Raaya’ were so preoccupied and caught up in the process of searching for each other, that they forgot the search was the means and not the ends in itself and were lost and misguided.

The Kriyat HaTorah of Shabbat Chol Hamoed from Shemot 33:13, describes how Moshe is yearning to understand Hashem – ‘Horaini Na Et Drachecha’ – ‘Please Hashem make Your ways known to me’.

The Torah in Shemot 20:2, emphasizes how it was Hashem who brought us out of Egypt. The Ramban comments on this Pasuk that the whole purpose of Yitziyat Mitzrayim is to show the Jews that Hashem and not man, is in ultimate control of both our national and individual fate and destiny. The Egyptians believed that man was in charge and controlled his own fate and destiny. The Jews introduced another approach-that G-d was in charge.

The Maharal in Gevurot Hashem, Perek 44, describes how the whole purpose of Yitziyat Mitzrayim was to demonstrate the concept of ‘Hashgacha’, that Hashem watches over and cares about us, both on an individual and collective level. Hashem could have left us in Egypt, but instead at the last minute before it was too late, decided to bring us out and that was the ultimate expression of Chessed and love.

Indeed yearning is central to the human and religious experience as described in Sefer Beraishit. Avraham yearns to live in Eretz Yisrael, the Avot and Imahot yearn for children, Yaakov and Yosef yearn to be reunited and Yosef yearns for his brothers to love him.

Pesach is focused around the concept of yearning. The Hagadah, Shir Hashirim and the Kriyat Hatorah, all describe the Jewish People both on an individual and collective level yearning for Hashem and visa versa. As we see in Sefer Beraishit, yearning is also very much part of the human and religious experience.

As we yearn for whatever we do in our own lives, we need to bear in mind that it is Hashem and only Hashem who can bring our yearning to an end. As the Ramban and Maharal describe, the whole purpose of Yitziyat Mitzrayim is a lesson in faith, that we need to realize and internalize that Hashem loves and cares about us and is ultimately in control of our fate and destiny.

I hope you had an enjoyable Chag,

Benjy Singer.

Shir Hashirim, the Korban Pesach and Chessed.

17 04 2014


What is the central message of Pesach and why do we read Shir Hashirim on Pesach?

The Mishnayot of Masechet Pesachim describe two types of Pesach. ‘Pesach Mitzrayim’ which was eaten in ‘Mishpachot’ and ‘Pesach Le’Dorot’, which was eaten in ‘Chaburot’, which were selected. The Mishnayot describe differences between the two forms of Korban Pesach, but the common denominator was that they were eaten in a group, a community, a collective.

shir hashirim

Why? Rav J.B. Soloveichik ztl explained that the Korban Pesach is based around the concept of chessed. It is only when we are part of a community, a collective, that we can truly experience chessed. When we are alone, we cannot identify with the needs, pain and frustrations of those around us. When we are with others, we realise that we all have hopes and dreams still to be fulfilled. It is only when we are part of a community-a ‘chaburah’, that we can share our fate and destiny with others.

untitled.png-helping others

Shir Hashirim, is a call for chessed. Twice, in Perek Gimel and Perek Hey, the Raaya is searching the streets, the markets for her beloved-she even has to ask the ‘Shomrim’ if they can help her. How can one read these pesukim and not feel her sense of helplessness, shame and humiliation? How can one not sense her dependency, lack of independence, and freedom. If one reads Shir Hashirim on a pshat level, unlike Rashi or the Malbim, it is a Megillah that demands sensitivity to the needs and worries of those around us.

Megillat Ruth, is the response to Shir Hashirim, also based on the concept of Chessed. Megillat Ruth teaches us, it is not just enough to be aware of other peoples pain and worries, but we must react and do something to help them. As a response to Shir Hashirim, Megillat Ruth is a call to action. If we don’t react and we remain passive, there is a problem in our own Yirat Shamayim and Avodat Hashem.


Rav Aaron Soloveichik ztl, speaks of the concept of ‘Torat Chessed’. It is interesting that Matan Torah, is sandwiched between two Megillot, Shir Hashirim and Ruth, which shows that Torah-what Rav Aaron called ‘Service of the Mind’, must be accompanied by sensitivity, kindness, being able to empathize with those around us and not being emotionally detached-what Rav Aaron called, ‘Service of the Heart’.

Chag Kasher Ve’Sameach,

Benjy Singer.

Matzah: Just be your Humble Self!

13 04 2014

be yourself

Why did we need to go through slavery before becoming a Nation? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes that we needed to learn to empathize and be more sensitive and compassionate towards the minority, the outsiders, the underdogs, and disadvantaged in society as part of our journey towards being a true collective Nation based on ideals of Chessed and Tzedek. Rav Kook in his Hagadah explains that through the process of slavery we internalised the concept of being subservient to a master. In Egypt, that master was physical. Once we left Egypt and became a free nation, that Master was Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

I heard Rabbi Brovender explain that the purpose of the 10 Plagues and the Splitting of the Yam Suf was a process through which Am Yisrael would realize that their true master was Hashem and not Pharoah. Last night, Rabbi Riskin discussed the connection between ‘Çheyrut’-Freedom and ‘Acharayut’-Responsibility. Rabbi Riskin suggested that we needed to experience slavery in order to fully appreciate freedom and as a result, live as a Nation built around the key concept of Collective Responsibility.

In Chassidut, the role of slavery is also seen on the level of individual, the personal. Particularly in the works of the Netivot Shalom and the Sfat Emet.

It may be difficult to actually feel along with the suffering and euphoria of the Jewish people while reading the Hagaddah, however, we each have our own personal Exodus and expansion to actively feel right now.

The Sfat Emet notes the root of the word Egypt is ‘Metzar’, or a painful contraction, similarly used by King David in Psalms, ‘Min Hametzar Karati Yah’, describing his personal struggles. It is our mission on Pesach to overcome this contraction towards growth and freedom.

Matzah is the perfect symbol and tool in achieving our growth. The Sfat Emet explains that Chametz symbolizes arrogance, while Matzah symbolizes humility. Furthermore, the Hebrew word ‘La’Hachmitz’ is to miss an opportunity or opening. When we approach life in an arrogant way we miss out on potential opportunities as we are unable to listen to the people and friends around us and take note of their advice and guidance.

The Netivot Shalom writes that there are two Korbanot- the Shtei Halechem on Shavuot and the Korban Todah that are accompanied by Chametz. Why these two?

pesach sameach

The Netivot Shalom answers that these two Korbanot are unique in what they represent.

On Shavuot we are celebrating Matan Torah, that formative and unique experience in our history which made us a Nation. It is perfectly fair and reasonable for the Shtei Ha’lechem to be accompanied by Chametz, as we are rightly proud of the experience of Har Sinai and Hashem choosing us to be the recipients of the Torah. Furthermore, the Korban Todah is brought as an expression of Hakarat Ha’Tov to Hashem, and therefore it natural for Chametz to accompany this Korban, as by bringing Chametz together with it we are showing that we are proud that Hashem has been good and kind to us. The Netivot Shalom writes that there is nothing wrong with Çhametz – ‘Gaavah’, if it used in a responsible and mature way, and as a means to serve Hashem. The Netivot Shalom writes that Chametz, Gaávah can be healthy and useful if used as a means in Avodat Hashem.

We work diligently before Pesach to remove and destroy all the Chametz in our homes. While the arrogance of Chametz exists, we are unable to accept help and guidance to assist our growth and development. It is only when we choose to enjoy our Matzah that humility allows to expand and grow out of our own Mitzrayim.

Matzah is actually baked bread that has not risen or expanded. The choice we visibly make on Pesach is to enjoy the spiritual expansion of freedom over the physical expansion of Chametz.

By eating Matzah over Pesach we are reminded of the need to be true to ourselves and by so doing getting rid of the Chametz, that causes us to ‘Le’Hachmitz’-to miss the wonderful opportunities that come our way and keep us in the mental and psychological state of ‘Metzar’ – siege.

A person who is full of Çhametz can’t grow and develop as he is unable to listen to the guidance of his family and friends around him, who may have more insight and life experience that him. A person who is humble and willing to listen, represented by Matzah, can grow as he is willing to listen to the advice others offer him. When we eat Matzah we are reminded of our humble roots, who we really are and where we are from and hopefully as a result will become more true to ourselves and remain so after Pesach once we return to our normal Çhametz state of being.

Chag Kasher Ve’Sameach,

Benjy Singer.

A Dummies Guide to Kashering Your Kitchen For Pesach

3 04 2014


I wrote this easy to read (I hope) overview to help you all prepare your kitchen for Pesach. The Halachot are complex and confusing and there are different views, but here are the basics. It could be that you have the minhag to be more/ less strict than I have written here. If you have a question, ask your Rav.

Also, don’t forget as Rav Yoni Rosensweig said in his shiur last night, that Pesach is a Chag like any other and there is a mitzvah of ‘Simcha’. It’s equally important to spend your time going through the Hagadah and preparing nice Divrei Torah for the Seder, as it is exhausting yourself cleaning your home. Rav Pinchas Sheinberg Z’L said that it should take just 2 hours to prepare your home for Pesach. In other words, don’t drive yourself crazy. There is no need!

Section A: Underlying Principles:

Absorption – As in general with Issur Ve’Heter, we look at how the taste has been absorbed when deciding if there is a problem and how to deal with it. The phrase you need to remember is ‘K’Bolo Kach Polto’ – which roughly means – in the way the forbidden taste was absorbed, it must be extracted. In other words, if the forbidden taste, or in the case of Pesach the Chametz, was absorbed, in that same way it needs to be extracted. For instance, if there is a possibility that the chametz was absorbed when cooking in water or a liquid you need to do ‘Hagalah’ (submersion in boiling hot water on a Kli Rishon). If the forbidden chametz was absorbed not by liquid, but by heat alone/ directly on fire or flame, you usually need to do ‘Libun’ (either libun kal – on a stove top or fire or libun chamur – where the vessel actually turns red – see below). In cases where you just want to clean very well, but there wasn’t absorption by heat at all, you do ‘Írui’ (pouring hot water from a Kli Rishon).

Hagalah – purging: Submerge utensil in boiling water on a Kli Rishon.

How long should a regular Hagalah take? The Poskim say between 10 – 15 seconds.

Libun – burning (literally ‘whitening’): The utensil is heated directly by a fire or blow torch until it reaches high/extremely high temperatures. Most utensils just need libun kal, unless they came into contact with mamash chametz and the metal was red hot.

1) Libun Kal – Hot enough to burn a piece of straw or tissue. You do Libun kal on utensils that haven’t come into direct contact with red hot metal, for instance the handle of a pot.

2) Libun Chamur – Use a blow torch. Must be hot enough for the utensil to actually turn red, be glowing hot and for there to be sparks. Libun Chamur is done for instance with a BBQ grates that have had pitot or meat with chametz burnt on them.

– The way to kasher is Hagalah. Libun is used less (be careful not to damage the utensil whilst performing libun).

Which utensils require libun? Those used directly on the fire, without liquid. For instance, a spit, frying pan, baking pan, stove grates, oven racks etc.

Which materials may be kashered? Wood, stone and all metals – gold, silver, copper, steel, aluminium.

-In general, in order to be a problem, chametz must be edible.

-Absorption: In Hilchot Kashrut, there needs to be heat in order for absorption to take place. If everything is cold, then absorption usually can’t take place (unless it’s a ‘Davar Charif’ like an onion or radish). So, when deciding whether or how to Kasher your utensils for Pesach-ask yourself, ‘Is there a chance the Chametz was absorbed into the utensil by heat or was it cold? It there was no heat, then usually you should just clean the utensil thoroughly. Again, the principle you need you need to remember is ‘K’Bolo Kach Polto’ – you extract the forbidden taste in the same way it was absorbed. If it was cold, then you just need to clean thoroughly, if through cooking in water, then you need to do Hagalah, if directly on heat or fire, you need to do Libun.

Which materials cannot be kashered? Glass, enamel, porcelain, china, Teflon. For plastic, rubber, and nylon ask a Rav.

If you can’t kasher a utensil – for instance a sieve, strainer, grater and grinder you can’t use it.

-You can kasher several utensils at the same time.

– You only are expected to do what you physically can. In other words, you can’t put your whole kitchen surface and do ‘Hagalah’ – so even if you had to, you do Írui’ and then cover the surface.

– When you do Hagalah or Libun, you shouldn’t use the object for 24 hours beforehand to make sure the taste is not good – ‘Notam Tam Lifgam’. If you can’t wait 24 hours, then you add soap or other liquid that ensures the taste goes bad and doesn’t enhance any food placed in the vessel or utensil.

Section B: Practical Application to Your Kitchen:

1) Microwaves: Clean thoroughly, don’t use for 24 hours. Boil a cup or bowl of water for several minutes to allow the steam to fill the microwave, following which the cup/bowl should be removed and the inside of the oven cleaned/dried. Whilst cooking food over Pesach, cover it (this is the preferred practice for the rest of the year too).
The circular under plate/ glass dish you place the utensils on in the microwave- As the dish doesn’t come into direct contact with food, then you just clean it and do Hagalah. If you can’t do Hagalah then Írui’ is good enough.

2) Ovens:

If it’s a self – cleaning oven – run it through the self – cleaning cycle. The racks and stove grates must also be kashered so leave them inside.
Normal oven – Clean thoroughly, don’t use for 24 hours, put on maximum heat for roughly an hour. The racks from inside the oven should be cleaned and then do libun kal. Covering food when cooking in oven over Pesach is a chumra. One compartment of a two-compartment oven may be kashered, and the second compartment can simply be closed up without using it for Pesach.

3) Stoves:

– Grates (that the pots sit on): Clean thoroughly, do libun kal (or libun chamur if necessary) with them, wrap with aluminium foil.

– Burners: Clean thoroughly, light gas and leave on high for 5 – 10 minutes.

– Stove trays: Clean thoroughly, and then libun kal and then cover well with foil.

– Electric stoves: Clean and switch on highest heat for five minutes.

– Electric hot plate: Clean off all spills and cover with thick foil.

4)Steel Sink:

Clean thoroughly with an acrid detergent, don’t put anything hot in it for 24 hours, make sure it’s clean and dry and do Irui (pouring in boiling hot water from a kli rishon – such as a kettle). You kasher the sink this way section by section. Covering the inside of sink with thick foil is a chumra. Boiling water from the kettle should also be poured on the taps.

5) Kitchen Surfaces:  If made out of metal, pure marble or pure granite – clean, don’t place anything hot on them for 24 hours, do Irui section by section, cover with thick foil. Surfaces of other materials should be cleaned well and covered with something waterproof that is strong and won’t tear over Pesach.

6) Cupboard shelves: Clean thoroughly, the minhag is to line shelves, but no need to.

7) Kitchen tables: On which food is placed should be cleaned and covered with a durable covering which will not tear.

8) Fridges: Clean with detergent – minhag is to line the shelves but no need to. Why no need to line the shelves? As it’s cold, and as already mentioned absorption only takes place when there is heat.

9) Freezers: Clean with detergent. No need to line shelves.

10) Dishwashers : Can be kashered by cleaning, waiting 24 hours and operating with dishwasher detergent for full cycle without any utensils inside.

11) Frying pans: Need Libun Chamur. Why? Because pans come into direct contact with heat, with no significant liquid medium involved. Even though there was oil in the pan, this is not like cooking with water in a pot (which just requires Hagalah). Again, don’t forget the key concept- ‘K’Bolo Kach Polto’. If LIbun chamur will ruin the pan, don’t do it-buy a new one!

12) Blech/ hot plate: Clean, wait 24 hours, turn on maximum heat for an hour or so.

13) Mixers/blenders: If chametz was used in the blender, must replace the blades and bowl for Pesach. Rest of machine must be cleaned thoroughly. If chametz wasn’t used, you can kasher the blades by hagalah. If the bowl is made of metal you can kasher it, if it’s made of glass or plastic you need to ask a Rav.

14) Toasters: Clean thoroughly and put away.

15) Crockery: You must clean well. We don’t do hagalah on china / porcelain etc. except in very exceptional circumstances If you’re convinced that the utensil didn’t come into contact with hot chametz, it’s enough to clean thoroughly with a steel wool type cloth or brush, instead of NÍtzah – digging in the ground 10 times.

16) Kiddush Becher: Clean with a steel wool type cloth or brush – the Minhag is to do hagalah.

17) Glass – More complicated: Glass doesn’t absorb. If convinced the glass came into contact with hot chametz, then Ashkenazim are machmir and say really you should buy new glass utensils for Pesach. However, if you cannot afford to, then you must clean thoroughly and do Hagalah (provided there is no chance the glass will break). If there is a chance the glass will break you should just clean thoroughly. Sefardim are meykil with glass and and say as glass can’t absorb you just need to clean and you can use them. As I mentioned, Ashkenazim are machmir and prefer not to do Hagalah at all with glass utensils.

With glasses you have used to drink with and there was no heat involved– these can be kashered by immersing them in water for 72 hours and replacing the water at intervals of precisely 24 hours.

18) Metal pots: Clean, don’t use for 24 hours, Hagalah. You should break them up and remove the handle to clean – to the extent this is possible. If you can’t, don’t worry as less chance there is chametz you can’t get to.

19) Kettle: Hot water kettles do not require kashering if no food or drink other than water has been heated in or over them; it is sufficient to clean them. A kettle over which Chametz has been heated, and which contains lime scale (avnit), cannot be kashered unless all of the limestone is completely removed from the kettle.

20) Shabbat Urn: If there is a concern that challot or other types of chametz were warmed up on top of the urn you must do libun chamur (as it’s direct contact, with heat), if there is no such concern, then you do hagalah by filling up the urn and boiling the water.

21) Pressure cooker:Clean thoroughly and use.

22) Soaps and detergents: Do not need to be ‘Kosher for Pesach’ as they are not edible

I hope this listing has been useful,

Wishing you all a Chag Sameach!

Benjy Singer