Out With the Old, In With the New

In the parashah lectures I delivered last week, I discussed the practice of R. Nosson Adler (of Frankfurt), recorded by his reverential disciple Hasam Sofer, to avoid calling up to the Torah for the aliyah of Levi on the holiday of Succos one who consumes hadash, since by that time of the year, hadash barley has already been harvested, and that aliyah contains the prohibition of the consumption of hadash, “and this one will recite the blessing on the Torah and this verse will be read before him, and he will then drink beer and liquor and eat his bread that is leavened with beer yeast which according to most decisors even in contemporary times is Biblically [prohibited]”:

ראה זה ראיתי מנהגי מורי הגאון מ’ נתן אדלר זצ”ל שביום טוב של סוכות לא קרא ללוי למי שאוכל חדש כי באותו זמן כבר נקצרו השעורים שהם חדש קודם העומר והלוי קורין לפניו בבי”ט של סוכות ולחם וקלי וכרמל לא תאכלו עד עצם היום הזה עד הביאכם וזה יברך על התורה ויקרא לפנו מקרא זה ושוב ישתה שכר ויין שרף ויאכל פתו המחומץ בשמרי שכר שלרוב פוסקים גם בזמן הזה הוא דאורייתא1

It is clear that R. Adler did not object to someone who is lenient with regard to hadash receiving the relevant aliyah on Shabbas parashas Emor, or on the second day of Pesah, since hadash is not available during that season, and the fact that he has eaten hadash just a month ago and will be doing so again in several months apparently did not bother R. Adler. The hypocrisy is only intolerable on Succos, “for in that season the barley that is hadash prior to the Omer has already been harvested …”.2

In any event, I do not think that R. Adler means that hadash is absolutely prohibited in contemporary times, and that those who consume it are arrant sinners, but rather that although the common practice can be justified by the various proposals offered by the aharonim, it nevertheless must be conceded that the most straightforward reading of the sources yields the conclusion that hadash is indeed prohibited, and that one who does rely on the various dubious justifications of the aharonim should at least have the decency to avoid the hypocrisy that being honored by a public reading of the prohibition would entail. This interpretation is supported by Hasam Sofer’s subsequent application of the same principle to another commandment commonly honored in the breach, shemitas kesafim:

וכיוצא זה השתא הכא שנת השמיטה אינה ראויה לקרות בתורה לא יגוש את רעהו למי שלא עשה פרוזבל ערב ראש השנה העבר בכניסת שמיטה וגם יעשה פרוזבל ערב ראש השנה הבאה עלינו לטובה ביציאתו לצאת ידי כל הפוסקים החולקים בזה עיין חו”מ סימן ס”ז כיוצא באלו ראוי’ להחסידים לזהר3

The parallel between hadash and shemitas kesafim is remarkably close. In both cases, an objective reading of the sources indicates that the consensus view is that these laws remain in force in contemporary times, even in the Diaspora, and in both we have a somewhat mysterious but venerable tradition of at least eight centuries of widespread apparent flouting of the law. In both cases, halachic authorities have generally, if grudgingly, conceded that the tradition of leniency may be relied upon, and have offered a variety of justifications thereof, albeit none that are entirely satisfying. It seems plausible, therefore, that R. Adler would concede that one who follows these traditions cannot be called a sinner, but maintains that given the absence of any truly solid and satisfying justifications of the customs, those who decline to be stringent should at least be bashful enough to avoid public encounters with the relevant Biblical admonitions.

Another interesting source on the topic of hadash is a responsum of the אבני נזר, sometimes cited in support of the general proposition that “the Hasidim have been lenient in this matter”.4 While this is not incorrect, a close look at the responsum in context yields a somewhat more equivocal conclusion:

דבר האתרוגים זה טעמי כי באמת הוא דבר קשה לסמוך על אתרוגי קרפי כי הרינון בהם מצוי בכל השו”ת אחרונים …
והנה שמעתי שהרבי מלובלין זצוקללה”ה שיבח הקרפי, וזה היה עמוד גדול לסמוך כי מסתמא צפה ברוח קדשו שאינם מורכבים5 ובוודאי העולם סומכים עליו, ועל כן יוצאים לכתחילה בהקרפי:
אולם זאת שמעתי בבירור שמה שחסידי פולין אינם נזהרים באיסור חדש נצמח מחמת כי בבית הרבי מלובלין זצללה”ה היו נותנים על השלחן גראפים חדש כי הרבי אמר מאחר שזקנו הב”ח התיר לו אין לו לחוש, ועל כן יכול להיות שעל כן לא חשש הרבי מלובלין זצללה”ה גם כן לחשש מורכב מאחר שהב”ח התיר בתשובה המורכבים שמראיהם מראה אתרוג, היינו שמרכיב ענף אילן אתרוג בתוך אילן לימוני, ואף שיש בו ריח לימוני, ואם זה היה טעמו מן הדין עלינו לחוש לשיטת רוב אחרונים החולקים על הב”ח בזה6

The אבני נזר is arguing that although the “עולם” follows the “Rebbe of Lublin” (presumably the Chozeh?) in using Corfu esrogim, this is not based upon an authoritative independent opinion of the Rebbe, but rather derives from the fact that the Rebbe was a descendant of the Bach, and adopted his ancestor’s lenient position regarding grafted esrogim in general, and since the Bach’s stance is non-normative, the Rebbe’s adoption of it does not authorize “our” adoption of it. The אבני נזר supports this with an analogy to hadash, maintaining that the leniency of Polish Hasidim with regard to hadash is based on the Rebbe’s lenient stance, which similarly derived from his ancestor the Bach’s celebrated albeit controversial position on the question. The implication is that here, too, the Bach’s position is relevant to his descendants and their followers, but not necessarily to the general populace.

Here’s my weekly parashah column (from last week):

In parashas Emor (23:14), we are commanded to abstain from bread and certain forms of grain until the offering of the Omer sacrifice on the second day of Passover. This is termed the prohibition of chadash (“new”). All grain starts out being prohibited as chadash. Upon the offering of the Omer, any grain that has already taken root becomes permitted as yashan (“old”), while all grain that subsequently takes root is termed chadash and is prohibited until next year’s offering. When the Omer is not offered, as in contemporary times, chadash becomes permitted after the sixteenth of Nissan (or the seventeenth, in the Diaspora).

For nearly a millennium, however, the practice of much of Ashkenazic Jewry in the Diaspora has been to disregard this prohibition, and halachic authorities have struggled greatly to justify this. Some argue that the Biblical prohibition may only apply in the Land of Israel, whereas in the Diaspora, the prohibition is merely Rabbinic. Insofar as it is Rabbinic, we may be lenient where the chadash / yashan status of grain is unknown (safek de’rabanan le’kula – Or Zarua Hilchos Orlah Ve’Chadash #328). Alternatively, we may follow the opinion that maintains that this Rabbinic extension to the Diaspora only applies to areas of geographical proximity to the Land of Israel (Magen Avraham end of siman #489). Some argue that the prohibition of chadash does not apply to grain grown by non-Jews (Bach Yoreh De’ah #293). Others argue that there are generally two separate uncertainties (sfek sfeka) about the chadash status of any particular instance of grain. Perhaps it is from last year’s crop, in which case it is certainly yashan, and even if it is from this year’s, it may have taken root before the Omer (see Rema 293:3).

Many of the same authorities who propose these justifications, however, concede that they are merely intended to justify a problematic custom, or that they are of dubious validity, and may be relied upon only due to the difficulty of obtaining yashan. Many authorities therefore encourage personal strictness where possible (Magen Avraham ibid., Shulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chaim 489:30, Mishneh Berurah siman 489 s.k. 45).

And here are the weekly lectures: Y version, K version.

  1. שו”ת חת”ם סופר או”ח סוף סימן ט”ו []
  2. In my lectures, I pointed out that R. Adler mentions bread and beer, but not the one dish that many modern Ashkenazic Jews probably associate most readily with barley: cholent. I suggested that perhaps the German Shabbas cuisine of a couple of centuries ago did not include barley-containing cholent, but some of the lecture attendees pointed out that cholent is only a concern on Shabbas. The second day of Succos cannot fall out on Shabbas, and perhaps just as R. Adler can tolerate giving the relevant aliyah to someone who has eaten hadash a month ago, so, too, could he even tolerate giving it to someone who has eaten it just a few days ago and will do so again in a few days, as long as he will not be eating it on that day itself! []
  3. The Hasam Sofer implies that he is strongly endorsing the practice of writing an early Pruzbul at the end of the sixth year, in addition to the one written at the end of the seventh. In a different responsum (חו”מ סימן נ’‏ ), however, he argues that this is unnecessary, and declares his certainty that R. Adler did not practice this stringency. We will perhaps return to this point in a later post. []
  4. נטעי גבריאל הלכות פסח חלק ג’ יב:ה והערה ח’‏ []
  5. The אבני נזר seems to assume that it is legitimate to determine halachah via the establishment of realia through Divine revelation; we have previously discussed this question here. []
  6. שו”ת אבני נזר חו”מ סימן קט”ו []

Parashas Kedoshim: A Man’s Word Is His Bond

My weekly halachah column:

In parashas Kedoshim (19:36), the Torah commands: “Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have”. The plain meaning of hin is a particular measure of volume, but the Talmud (Bava Metzia 49) interprets the word hermeneutically in the sense of hen (“yes”), and thereby derives the exhortation that “your ‘yes’ shall be just, and your ‘no’ shall be just”, which it further explicates to mean that one should honor one’s commitment (even when not formalized by a contract or any other civil ritual), or at least that one should not make a promise in bad faith.

The halachah is that both these types of faithlessness are unacceptable. Some authorities apparently understand that honoring one’s commitment is a bona fide Biblical commandment, and the Minchas Chinuch (#259) assumes that according to this view, a Beis Din will actually compel one to keep his word. The Minchas Pitim (204:11, and see 183:4), however, rejects out of hand the possibility that a mere promise is be enforceable by Beis Din. It is generally agreed, however, that one who fails to keep his word is considered a sinner, and may be publicly declared to be such (Shut. Maharam b. Baruch [Prague] #949, Shut. Maharam Mintz #101).

There is a major unresolved dispute over whether the obligation to keep one’s word applies even when circumstances have changed significantly from the time of the promise (see Rema Choshen Mishpat 204:11, Minchas Pitim Shiarei Minchah end of 204:11). There is also some debate over whether the obligation applies to a commitment made not in the presence of the beneficiary, or to a minor (see Minchas Pitim 204:8), or in various situations where a formal, contractual agreement would not be binding, such as a commitment regarding property that one does not yet own (davar she’lo ba le’olam or she’aino be’reshuso – Shut. Pri Yitzchak 49-50) or conditional or penalty obligations (asmachta – Erech Shai Choshen Mishpat 14:5).

My weekly lectures, on the same topic: Y version, K version.

[I generally deliver two versions of the same basic lecture. The Y version takes place first, and is less formal and delivered in a noisier environment than the K version. The K version includes handouts, usually benefits from additional preparation, and sometimes has some of the rougher edges of the Y version ironed out.]