Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow

About Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow

Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow received his MA and Rabbinic ordination from the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Shlomo is the mesadder gittin (adjudicator of religious divorce) for the Masorti Movement in Israel and is certified as mashgiah kashrut and shohet l’ofot (ritual slaughterer). In addition, he is on the faculty of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary and mentors Rabbis via Masorti Olami. Previously he served as the Rabbi of Congregation Shevet Achim in Gilo. He teaches Biblical Hebrew, Halakha (Jewish Law) and Pos’kim (The Development of Jewish Law).

Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow

Contemporary Issues In Halakha – Redemption Of Captives Sources Part 1

פדיון שבויים

The Redemption of Captives
ר’ שלמה זכרוב
Part I

1)  תלמוד בבלי מסכת גיטין דף מה עמוד א

 מתני’.  אין  פודין את השבויין יתר על כדי דמיהן, מפני תיקון העולם . . .

גמ’. איבעיא להו: האי מפני תיקון העולם – משום דוחקא דצבורא הוא, או דילמא משום  דלא לגרבו ולייתו טפי? ת”ש:  דלוי בר דרגא פרקא לברתיה בתליסר אלפי דינרי זהב. אמר אביי: ומאן לימא לן דברצון חכמים עבד? דילמא שלא  ברצון חכמים עבד.

Babylonian Talmud Gittin 45a

Mishna: Captives should not be redeemed for more than their value because of tikkun olam.

Gemara:  The question was raised: Does this tikkun olam relate to the burden which may be imposed on the community or to the possibility that the activities [of the captors] may be stimulated? — Come and hear: Levi the son of Darga ransomed his daughter for thirteen thousand dinars of gold.  Said Abaye: But are you sure that he acted with the consent of the Sages? Perhaps he acted against the will of the Sages.

•Background:  Tikkun olam  (עולם‎ (תיקון is a Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world”.  In Judaism, the concept of tikkun olam originated in the early rabbinic period. The concept was given new meanings in the קבלה kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) of the medieval period and further connotations in modern Judaism.  The expression tikkun olam is used in the  משנהMishnah in the phrase מפני תיקון עולם mip’nei tikkun ha-olam (“for the sake of tikkun of the world”) to indicate that a practice should be followed not because it is required by Biblical law, but because it helps avoid social chaos. One does not ransom captives for more than their value because of Tikkun Olam, literally: “fixing the world”; for the good order of the world; as a precaution for the general good.


How do we determine the value of a person?  Age?  Ability?  Potential? Or should all humans have the same value?

2)  רש”י מסכת גיטין דף מה עמוד א

גמ’ . מפני דוחקא דציבורא הוא –  אין לנו לדחוק הצבור ולהביאו לידי עניות בשביל אלו.

או דילמא –  דלא ימסרו עובדי כוכבים נפשייהו וליגרבו ולייתו טפי מפני שמוכרין אותן ביוקר ונפקא מינה אם יש לו אב עשיר או קרוב שרוצה לפדותו בדמים הרבה ולא יפילהו על הצבור.

Rashi to Babylonian Talmud Gittin 45a:

“Because of the burden imposed on the community” – We should not burden the community by impoverishing it for this.

“Or to the possibility” – that the idolaters will be willing to sacrifice their lives in order to capture more people and bring them to ransom because they can sell them for a great gain.  The practical difference is regarding a situation where the captive has a rich father or relative who wants to redeem him for much money and not hold the community responsible.


In our case of a state (Israel) redeeming captives, which reasoning seems more relevant?

3)  תוספות מסכת גיטין דף מה עמוד א

דלא ליגרבו ולייתו  – והא דתניא בפ’ נערה  (כתובות נב.) נשבית והיו מבקשין ממנה עד עשרה בדמיה פעם ראשון פודה שאני אשתו דהויא כגופו יותר מבתו דהכא ועל
עצמו לא תיקנו שלא יתן כל אשר לו בעד נפשו

ור’ יהושע בן חנניא דפרקיה לההוא תינוק  בממון הרבה בהניזקין  (לקמן דף נח.)   לפי שהיה מופלג בחכמה

אי נמי בשעת חורבן הבית לא שייך דלא ליגרבו.


“So they shouldn’t grab (captives) and bring (them to ransom)” –

However, there is a baraita in the chapter Na’arah (Ketubot 52a); she was captured and they asked for her up to ten times her worth.  The first time he (the husband) must redeem.  A wife is different because she is like part of his own body more than his daughter; for her (his daughter) and for himself the (rabbis) did not fix that he should give more than he is worth.

R’ Yehoshua ben Hananya redeemed the child for much more money than his worth (Gittin 58a) since he was exceptionally wise.

Also, after the destruction of the temple, the concept “so that they should not seize (captives)” is not applicable.


The תוספות Tosafot are mediæval commentaries on the Talmud. They take the form of critical and explanatory glosses, printed, in almost all Talmud editions, on the outer margin and opposite Rashi‘s notes.

Up to and including רש”י Rashi, the Talmudic commentators occupied themselves only with the plain meaning פשט “peshaṭ” of the text; but after the beginning of the twelfth century the spirit of criticism took possession of the teachers of the Talmud. Thus some of Rashi’s continuators, as his sons-in-law and his grandson רשב”ם  Samuel ben Meïr (RaSHBaM), while they wrote commentaries on the Talmud after the manner of Rashi’s, wrote also glosses on it in a style peculiar to themselves. The chief characteristic of the Tosafot is that they evidence no recognition of any authority, so that, in spite of the great respect in which Rashi was held by the Tosafists, the latter freely corrected him. Besides, the Tosafot do not constitute a continuous commentary, but deal only with the difficult passages of the Talmudic text.

The chief home of tosafot literature was incontestably France, for it began with Rashi’s pupils, and was continued mainly by the heads of the French schools. It is true that, practically, tosafot began to be written in Germany at the same time as in France, but the French tosafists always predominated numerically.


In order to fully understand Tosafot, it is worthwhile to first study sources #4 & #5.  Tosafot provide three exceptions to what is stated in the Talmud.  What are they?  How do you understand each one?  Do you agree with Tosafot?

4)  תלמוד בבלי מסכת כתובות דף נב עמוד א-ב

 תנו רבנן:  נשבית, והיו מבקשין ממנו עד עשרה בדמיה – פעם  ראשונה פודה, מכאן ואילך, רצה – פודה, רצה – אינו פודה; רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר:  אין   פודין את השבויין יותר על כדי דמיהם, מפני תקון העולם.

4)  Ketubot 52a-b

Our Rabbis taught: [If a woman] was taken captive and a demand was made upon her husband for as much as ten times her value, he must ransom her the first time. Subsequently, however, he ransoms her only if he desired to do so but need not ransom her if he does not wish to do so. R. Shimon b. Gamaliel ruled:  Captives must not be ransomed for more than their value, because of “tikkun olam.”

5)  תלמוד בבלי מסכת גיטין דף נח עמוד א

 ת”ר: מעשה ברבי יהושע בן  חנניה שהלך לכרך גדול שברומי, אמרו לו: תינוק אחד יש בבית האסורים, יפה עינים וטוב רואי וקווצותיו סדורות לו תלתלים.  הלך ועמד על פתח בית האסורים, אמר: (ישעיהו מב:כד) “מי נתן למשיסה יעקב וישראל לבוזזים?” ענה אותו תינוק ואמר: “הלא ה’ זו  חטאנו לו ולא אבו בדרכיו הלוך ולא שמעו בתורתו”(ישעיהו מב:כד). אמר: מובטחני בו שמורה הוראה בישראל, העבודה! שאיני זז מכאן עד שאפדנו  בכל ממון שפוסקין עליו. אמרו: לא זז משם עד שפדאו בממון הרבה, ולא היו ימים מועטין עד שהורה הוראה בישראל. ומנו? רבי ישמעאל בן אלישע.

5)  Babylonian Talmud Gitttin 58a:

Our Rabbis have taught: R. Joshua ben (the son of) Hananiah went to the great city of Rome, and he was told there that there was in the prison a child with beautiful eyes and face and curly locks.  He went and stood at the doorway of the prison and said, “Who gave Jacob for a spoil and Israel to the robb
ers?”(Isaiah 42:24).  The child answered, “Is it not the Lord, He against whom we have sinned and in whose ways they would not walk, neither were they obedient unto his law” (Isaiah 42:24).  He said: I feel sure that this one will be a teacher in Israel. I swear that I will not budge from here before I ransom him, whatever price may be demanded. It is reported that he did not leave the spot before he had ransomed him at a high figure, nor did many days pass before he became a teacher in Israel. Who was he? — He was R. Ishmael b. Elisha.


How did R. Joshua ben Hananiah realize that the child was precocious?

6)  תוספות מסכת גיטין דף נח עמוד א

כל ממון שפוסקין עליו – כי איכא סכנת נפשות פודין שבויין יותר על כדי דמיהן כדאמרינן בפרק השולח (לעיל דף מד.)   גבי מוכר עצמו ואת בניו לעובדי כוכבים כ”ש הכא דאיכא קטלא אי נמי משום דמופלג בחכמה היה.

6)  Tosafot, Gittin 58a

“Whatever price may be demanded” – When there is a danger to human life, the captives are ransomed for more than their worth as we say in chapter ha-sholei-ah, (above page 44a).  If we say that this is the case when someone sold himself and his children to idol worshippers and they are about to be killed, even more so it should be the case when dealing with someone who is exceptional in his wisdom.


What additional exception does Tosafot provide to the general rule that “we don’t redeem captives for more than their worth”?

Go to Next Class – Captives Part 2

Redemption Of Captives – Contemporary Issues In Halakha

Redemption Of Captives


Before delving into the study material, I would like to provide an overview of Israel’s  prisoner exchanges in recent history by focusing in on three of the more well known cases.

1)  The Jibril Agreement was a prisoner exchange which took place on May 21, 1985 between the Israeli government and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – which was headed by Ahmed Jibril. As part of the agreement, Israel released 1,150 security prisoners in exchange for three Israeli prisoners captured during the First Lebanon War. Among the prisoners released by Israel were Kozo Okamoto – one of the perpetrators of the Lod Airport Massacre who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and Ahmed Yasin – a spiritual leader of Hamas who was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment in 1983.

The Israeli government faced harsh public criticism for agreeing to release so many security prisoners, among them those sentenced to life imprisonment and responsible for the killing of many Israeli citizens, particularly since the exchange did not include Israelis who were captured in the Battle of Sultan Ya’akub.  Many of the Palestinian prisoners released in this agreement later went on to form the backbone of the leadership of the First Intifada, which broke out less than three years after the agreement.

2)  In October 2000 in Sheeba Farms (border area between Israel and Lebanon),  Hezbollah captured three IDF soldiers who were killed either during the operation or in its immediate aftermath. A prisoner swap was carried out on 29 January 2004. Israel released 30 Lebanese and 400 Palestinian prisoners, handed over the remains of 59 Lebanese militants and civilians, and maps showing Israeli mines in South Lebanon.  In exchange, Israel received businessman and former army colonel Elhanan Tannenbaum and the remains of the three IDF soldiers, Adi Avitan, Benyamin Avraham & Omar Sawaid.

Aside from the lopsided numbers, the deal was even more controversial for two reasons.  First of all, it became known that Elhanan Tannenbaum was kidnapped by Hezbollah after being lured out of Israel under the false pretenses of a drug deal. He was kidnapped in Kuwait and taken to Lebanon. His abduction is believed to have been conducted by Imad Mugniyah, a senior member of Hezbollah. The abduction was executed by Sheik Kais Obeid, an Israeli Arab, a grandson of a former Israeli parliament (the Knesset) member from the Labor Party, who crossed the lines to become senior officer for Hezbollah. Obeid was a close friend of Tannenbaum.  Following his release, Tannenbaum was placed under arrest for his illegal actions that led up to his capture. He agreed to a plea bargain and admitted to the reasons behind his travel to Kuwait and described the details of his capture. In exchange, he was not tried for any crime and served no jail time. In December 2006, Tannenbaum, for the first time, admitted that he traveled abroad to complete a drug deal. He had expected to make $200,000.

Secondly, Mustafa Dirani and Sheik Abdul-Karim Obeid and were among the Lebanese prisoners released.  These two individuals were kidnapped by Israel, in 1989 and 1994 respectively, for use as bargaining chips in the effort to secure the release of the most famous of the Israeli MIAs (missing in action), Ron Arad. Fearing the release of these men would end any hope of finding Arad, his family attempted to take legal action to prevent their release. Nothing came of this effort.

3)  Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were Israeli soldiers serving in reserve duty when captured along the border by Hezbollah on 12 July 2006, sparking the second Israel-Lebanon war.

On July 16, 2008, the bodies of Goldwasser and Regev were returned to Israel in an Israeli-Hezbollah prisoner swap. An examination of the bodies determined that the two reservists were most likely killed during the initial attack, as Israeli security experts believed to be the case all along.

In exchange, Israel returned to Lebanon Samir Kuntar and four other Hezbollah fighters captured by Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War, as well as the remains of 199 Hizbullah militants.

Samir Kuntar is a Lebanese Druze militant and member of the Palestine Liberation Front. In Israel, Kuntar is considered the perpetrator of one of the most brutal terrorist attacks in the country’s history .  On April 22, 1979, at the age
of 16, he participated in the attempted kidnapping of an Israeli family in Nahariya that resulted in the deaths of four Israelis and two of his fellow kidnappers. Kuntar was convicted in an Israeli court for murder of an Israeli policeman, Eliyahu Shahar, 31 year-old Danny Haran, and Haran’s 4-year-old daughter, Einat Haran. He was also convicted of indirectly causing the death of two-year-old Yael Haran by suffocation, as her mother, Smadar, tried to quiet her crying while hiding from Kuntar.  In 1980 Kuntar was sentenced to four life sentences.

Immediately after his arrest, Kuntar admitted to the killings, but at his sentence and thereafter he denied killing the father and daughter, saying that they had been killed by security forces in the ensuing gun battle. He did admit to taking them hostage and killing Eliyahu Shahar, however.

Kuntar and the four other Hezballah fighters received a hero’s welcome in Lebanon.  Not only has Kuntar never shown any remorse for his actions, but recently he has been displayed in videos operating weaponry and calling for the death of more Israelis.

At the moment, the only Israeli prisoner who is known to be alive in enemy hands is Gilad Shalit. [Editor’s Note: As the time of this class, Gilad was still in captivity. He has since been released.] He is an Israeli soldier in the standing army who was captured in a cross border raid on the crossing Kerem Shalom from the Gaza Strip by Palestinian militants on 25 June 2006. During the morning attack, two Palestinian militantsas well as two IDF soldiers were killed and three others wounded, aside from Shalit, who himself suffered a broken left hand and a light shoulder wound after his tank was hit with an RPG.  His abductionand the following cross border raid by Hezbollah, resulting in the abduction of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev into Lebanon, were key events leading up to the conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon during summer 2006. Shalit holds a French citizenship, a fact that encouraged France and the European Union to be involved to some extent in the efforts to release him.

Shalit’s captors issued a statement on Monday, 26 June 2006, offering information on Shalit if Israel agreed to release all female Palestinian prisoners and all Palestinian prisoners under the age of 18. The statement came from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Popular Resistance Committees (which includes members of Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas), and a previously unknown group calling itself the Army of Islam.

Israeli forces entered Khan Yunis on 28 June 2006 to search for Shalit. According to David Siegel, a spokesman at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D. C., “Israel did everything it could in exhausting all diplomatic options and gave Mahmoud Abbas the opportunity to return the captured Israeli… This operation can be terminated immediately, conditioned on the release of Gilad Shalit.”

In September 2006, Egyptian mediators received a letter written by Gilad in which he stated that he was alive and well. The handwriting was confirmed to be that of  Shalit.

In November 2006, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal indicated that Shalit was alive and in good health.

On April 7, 2007, It was reported that the captors of Gilad Shalit have transferred to Israel, via Egyptian mediators, a list of Palestinian prisoners they want freed. The list includes approximately 1300 names some of which are high ranking Fatah members.

On 4 February 2008, it was reported that Hamas had sent Gilad’s family a second letter written by him and on June 9, 2008, it was reported that Hamas sent Gilad’s family a third letter. On both occasions, the handwriting was confirmed to be that of Shalit.

For some, it seems like the three notorious prisoner exchanges described above were lopsided and simply encouraged more future abductions.  To others, it seemed that this was the necessary price to pay for Israel’s dedication to its own citizens and soldiers and to the dignity of life or at least a proper burial.  The question is – what does Judaism have to contribute to this discussion?  Does a careful reading of the sources direct us to be in favor or opposed to these deals?  Must we bring Gilad Shalit home at “any price” or must he sacrifice himself for the welfare of the nation?

Source Sheets

Source Sheet Part 1

Source Sheet Part 2

Go to Next Class – Conversion

Contemporary Issues In Halakha – To Fast Or Not To Fast Sources Part 2

תשעה באב ושלוש התעניות

לצום או לא לצום?
?To Fast or not to Fast
ר’ שלמה זכרוב
Part II

3)  Rabbi Hai (ben Sherira) Gaon, 939-1038, Pumbedita, Babylon as recorded in Sefer Ha-Eshkol by Rabbi Avraham Av Beit Din (Ravad II), 1085-1158, Provence, France

ספר האשכול (אלבק) הלכות תשעה באב דף רטו עמוד א

ובתשובה לגאון [רבינו האי גאון] ז”ל, צומות האמורים בפסוק זה כה אמר ה’ צום הרביעי וצום החמישי וצום השביעי וצום העשירי כולן בטלו חוץ מת”ב דקאמרי’ אין שמד ואין שלום והוא בזמן הזה רצו מתענין <רצו אין מתענין>. ומקשי’ אי הכי ת”ב נמי, שני ת”ב הואיל והוכפלו בו צרות. מיכן שת”ב בלבד הוא דאיתיה [חובה] ואותן האחרים רצו מתענין [רצו אין מתענין].

The answer of the Gaon [Rabbeinu Hai Gaon], may his memory be for a blessing, is that the fasts spoken about in the verse “Thus said the LORD of hosts:  The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth,” all are cancelled save for the 9th of Av, as it is said, “in times when there are neither persecution nor shalom” so in these times “people may fast or not, as they see fit.”  And the position is challenged, “If that is so, then the 9th of Av also!”  This is different, for on the 9th of Av many misfortunes occurred.  From here we learn that only on the 9th of Av it is mandatory; on the other days, people may fast or not, as they see fit.

•Background:  Geonim (Hebrew: גאונים) were the presidents of the two great rabbinical colleges of Sura and Pumbedita, in Babylonia, and were the generally accepted spiritual leaders of the Jewish community world wide in the early medieval era.  Geonim is the plural of גאון (Gaon), which means “pride” or “splendour” in Biblical Hebrew and since the 1800s “genius” as in modern Hebrew. As a title of a Babylonian college president it meant something like “His Excellency.”  The Geonim played a prominent and decisive role in the transmission and teaching of Torah and Jewish law. They taught Talmud and decided on issues on which no ruling had been rendered during the period of the Talmud.

The period of the Geonim began in 589 after the period of the Sevora’im, and ended in 1038. There were two major Geonic academies, one in Sura and the other in Pumbedita. Hai ben Sherira, better known as Hai Gaon, was a medieval Jewish theologian, rabbi and scholar who served as Gaon of the Talmudic academy of Pumbedita during the early 11th century. He was born in 939 and died on March 28, 1038.

The record of his ruling is found here in Sefer Ha-Eshkol, a halakhic compendium written by Ravad II in the 12th century.

4)  Rashi; Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak

רש”י מסכת ראש השנה דף יח עמוד ב

שיש שלום – שאין יד הגויים תקיפה על ישראל.

Tractate Rosh Hashanah 18b

“When there is shalom” is when the non-Jews do not have dominion over Israel

•BackgroundRabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, (Hebrew: רבי שלמה יצחקי‎), better known by the acronym Rashi (Hebrew: ‏רש”י‎), (1040 –1105), was a rabbi from France, famed as the author of the first comprehensive commentaries on the Talmud, Torah and Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Acclaimed for his ability to present the basic meaning of the text in a concise yet lucid fashion, Rashi appeals to both learned scholars and beginning students, and his works remain a centerpiece of contemporary Jewish study. His commentaries, which appear in all printed editions of the Talmud and most printed editions of the Torah are an indispensable aid to both casual and serious students of =”Judaism”>Judaism‘s primary texts.

5)  Ritva; Rabbi Yom Tov Asevilli

חידושי הריטב”א מסכת ראש השנה דף יח עמוד ב

. . . בזמן שיש שלום כלומר שישראל שרויין על אדמתם ובית המקדש קיים יהיו לששון ולשמחה, ואם אין שלום שביהמ”ק חרב ויש שמד על ישראל דאיכא תרתי לגריעותא שיהו צום גמור מגזירת נביאים הראשונים, ואם אין שלום וגם אין שמד יהיה הדבר תלוי ברצון ישראל רצו ב”ד מתענין לא רצו אין מתענין כלל

The time of shalom is when Israel is dwelling in their land and the temple is standing, these will be a time for joy and gladness.  If there is no shalom, meaning that the Temple is destroyed and Israel is persecuted, there are two diminutions and there should be a complete fast as decreed by the early prophets.  If there is not shalom, and there is not persecution, the thing is dependent on the desire of Israel.  If the Bet Din (Jewish court) desires, there should be a fast.  If the Bet Din does not desire, there should be no fast at all.

•Background:  Yom Tov Asevilli  (1250-1330), who is commonly known to scholars of Judaism as the Ritva (an acronym of his Hebrew name), was a medieval rabbi and Halakhist famous for his commentary on the Talmud. The name “Asevilli” (sometimes pronounced “Ishbili”) is a Hebrew rendering of the Arabic Isbili, meaning “from Seville”.  His commentary on the Talmud is extremely concise and as such is one of the most frequently referred to Talmudic works until today.

6)  Nahmanides;  Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman

תורת האדם שער האבל – ענין אבלות ישנה ד”ה (שם) קרי

. . . ועכשיו כבר רצו ונהגו להתענות בהם וקבלום עליהם, לפיכך אסור ליחיד לפרוץ גדרן, וכל שכן בדורות הללו שהרי בעונותינו שרבו יש שמד בישראל ואין שלום, הילכך חייבין הכל להתענות מדברי קבלה ותקנת נביאים.

Torat Ha-Adam, The Gate of Mourning – “old mourning”

. . .  And now they have already shown their disposition to fast and they have accepted it upon themselves.  Therefore it is forbidden for an individual to “break through our fence,” even more so in these generations when due to our multitudinous sins, there is persecution upon Israel and there is no shalom.  Therefore everyone is required to fast due to the received tradition and to the decree of the prophets.

Nahmanides (1194 – 1270) was a Catalan rabbi, philosopher, physician, Kabbalist and biblical commentator. “Nahmanides ” is the common name for Moshe ben Nahman Gerondi; the name is a Greek translation of the Hebrew “Ben Nahman”, meaning “Son of Nahman”. He is also commonly known as Ramban (רמב”ן) — the acronym of his Hebrew name and title, Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman (רבי משה בן נחמן).

Nahmanides was born at Girona in 1194, and died in the Land of Israel about 1270. Ramban’s “Torat ha-Adam,” covers mainly the laws of mourning but also the commemorative fasts.

7)  Shulhan Arukh

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן תקמט:א

חייבים להתענות בתשעה באב ובי”ז בתמוז  ובג’ בתשרי ובעשרה בטבת,   מפני דברים הרעים שאירעו  בהם.

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן תקנ:א

 הכל חייבים להתענות ארבע צומות הללו ואסור לפרוץ גדר

Oreh Hayyim 549:1

It is required to fast on the 9th of Av, the 17th of Tammuz, the 3rd of Tishrei, and the 10th of Tevet, because of the bad things that happened on these days.

Oreh Hayyim 550:1

Everyone is required to observe these four fasts and it is forbidden to “break the fence”.


Background:  The Shulhan Arukh (Hebrew:  ערוך שולחן‎, literally: “Set Table“) i
s a codification, or written manual, of halakha (Jewish law), composed by Rabbi Yosef Karo in the 16th century. Together with its commentaries, it is considered the most authoritative compilation of halakha since the Talmud.


How does Ritva’s definition of “shalom” differ from that of Rashi?

If there is neither “shalom” nor persecution, who decides if we fast?  Does Ritva agree with Hai Gaon?

Should there be a difference made between 9 B’av and the other minor fasts?

Again, do you think we are living in a period of “shalom” today?

Are we “allowed” to disagree with the Shulhan Arukh and rely on an earlier source?

Go to Next Class – Redemption of Captives

Contemporary Issues In Halakha – To Fast Or Not To Fast Sources Part 1

תשעה באב ושלוש התעניות

לצום או לא לצום?
?To Fast or not to Fast
ר’ שלמה זכרוב
Part I

1)  Zekhariah 7:1-3; 8:18-19

זכריה פרק ז

א) וַיְהִי בִּשְׁנַת אַרְבַּע לְדָרְיָוֶשׁ הַמֶּלֶךְ הָיָה דְבַר יְדֹוָד אֶל זְכַרְיָה בְּאַרְבָּעָה לַחֹדֶשׁ הַתְּשִׁעִי בְּכִסְלֵו:

(ב) וַיִּשְׁלַח בֵּית אֵל שַׂר אֶצֶר וְרֶגֶם מֶלֶךְ וַאֲנָשָׁיו לְחַלּוֹת אֶת פְּנֵי יְדֹוָד:

(ג) לֵאמֹר אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים אֲשֶׁר לְבֵית יְדֹוָד צְבָאוֹת וְאֶל הַנְּבִיאִים לֵאמֹר הַאֶבְכֶּה בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַחֲמִשִׁי הִנָּזֵר כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי זֶה כַּמֶּה שָׁנִים:

זכריה פרק ח

(יח) וַיְהִי דְּבַר יְדֹוָד צְבָאוֹת אֵלַי לֵאמֹר:

(יט) כֹּה אָמַר יְדֹוָד צְבָאוֹת צוֹם הָרְבִיעִי וְצוֹם הַחֲמִישִׁי וְצוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְצוֹם הָעֲשִׂירִי יִהְיֶה לְבֵית יְהוּדָה לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּלְמֹעֲדִים טוֹבִים וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ:

1 And it came to pass in the fourth year of King Darius, that the word of the Lord came unto Zekhariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, in Kislev; 2 Beitel-saretzer, and Regem-melekh and his men were sent to entreat the favor of the Lord, 3 and to speak unto the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying: ‘Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?’

18 And the word of the Lord of hosts came unto me, saying: 19 ‘Thus said the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love truth and shalom.

•BackgroundZekhariah was a prophet who lived at the end of the 6th century before the common era.  The fourth year of the King of Darius is the year 518 BCE, two years after work commenced on the building of the second temple.  According to the book of Ezra, the Temple was finished in the 6th year of Darius (516BCE).

Aside from Rosh Hashanah, there are other “new years” in the Jewish calendar, notably Nissan, which is the first month for the purpose of counting the reigns of kings.  This is the system employed in the book of Zekhariah.


Can you identify the fasts/months that are referenced?

How do you understand Zekhariah’s response to the question being asked?

What says the Talmud regarding Zekhariah’s prophecy?

2)  Tractate Rosh Hashanah 18a-18b

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ראש השנה דף יח עמוד א-ב

משנה. על ששה חדשים השלוחין יוצאין: על ניסן מפני הפסח, על אב מפני התענית, על אלול מפני ראש השנה, על תשרי מפני תקנת המועדות, על כסליו מפני חנוכה, ועל אדר מפני הפורים. וכשהיה בית המקדש קיים – יוצאין אף על אייר מפני פסח קטן.

גמרא. וליפקו נמי אתמוז וטבת, דאמר רב חנא בר ביזנא אמר רב שמעון חסידא: מאי דכתיב )זכריה ח) “כה אמר ה’ צבאות צום הרביעי וצום החמישי וצום השביעי וצום העשירי יהיה לבית יהודה לששון ולשמחה.” קרי להו צום, וקרי להו ששון ושמחה, בזמן שיש שלום – יהיו לששון ולשמחה, אין שלום – צום. אמר רב פפא: הכי קאמר: בזמן שיש שלום – יהיו לששון ולשמחה, יש שמד – צום, אין שמד ואין שלום, רצו – מתענין, רצו – אין מתענין. אי הכי, תשעה באב נמי! – אמר רב פפא: שאני תשעה באב, הואיל והוכפלו בו צרות. דאמר מר: בתשעה באב חרב הבית בראשונה ובשניה, ונלכדה ביתר, ונחרשה העיר.

MISHNA: Messengers were sent out for the following six months: for Nissan, on account of the Passover; for Av, on account of the fast; for Elul, on account of the New Year; for Tishri, on account of appointing the order of the (remaining) festivals; for Kislev, on account of the Hanukah; for Adar, on account of Purim; also for Iyar, when the Temple was in existence, on account of the minor (or second) Passover.

GEMARA: Why were they not, also sent out for Tamuz and Tevet (in which months there
are also fasts)? Did not R. Hana bar Bizna say in the name of R. Simeon the pious: What is the meaning of the passage [Zecharia. 8:19]: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; the fast of the fourth, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall become in the house of Judah joy and gladness,” etc., that they are called fasts, and also days of joy and gladness? Are we not to understand that only in the time of shalom they shall be for joy and gladness, but in the time when there was not shalom they shall be fasts? Said R. Papa: It means this: When there is shalom, these days should be for joy and gladness; in the time of persecution they shall be fasts; in times when there are neither persecution nor shalom people may fast or not, as they see fit. If that is so, why then (should messengers have been sent out) on account of the fast of Av? Said R. Papa: The fast (ninth day) of Av is different, since many misfortunes occurred on that day, as the master said: “On the ninth of Av, the first and second Temples were destroyed, Beitar was captured, and the city of Jerusalem was razed to the ground.”

•Background:  The Mishna (משנה, “repetition”, from the verb shana  שנה, or “to study and review”) is a major work of Rabbinic Judaism, and the first major redaction into written form of Jewish oral traditions, called the Oral Torah. It was debated in the land of Israel between 70-200 CE by the group of rabbinic sages known as the Tannaim and redacted about 220 CE by Judah haNasi when, according to the Talmud, the persecution of the Jews and the passage of time raised the possibility that the details of the oral traditions would be forgotten. Rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah over the next three centuries were redacted as the Gemara (from Aramaic גמרא  gamar; literally, “[to] study” or “learning by tradition”).  The rabbis of the Gemara are referred to as Amoraim  The mishna combined with the gemara constitutes the Talmud.

There are two versions of the Gemara. One version was compiled by scholars of Israel, which was published between about 350400 CE. The other version by scholars of Babylonia which was published about 500 CE. By convention, a reference to the “Gemara” or “Talmud,” without further qualification, refers to the Babylonian version as opposed to the Palestinian/Yerushalmi.  The Talmud is subdivided into numerous tractates.


The messengers were sent out to announce when the new month was declared in Jerusalem.  Are there any months/holidays that you’d expect to see written in the mishna which are absent?

How does Rav Papa understand Zekhariah’s prophecy?

How do you understand the concept of “Shalom”?  Do you think that we are living in a period of “shalom” today?  Would it matter?

Go to Next Class – Fast Part 2

Contemporary Issues In Halakha – Laws Of Family Purity Sources Part 2

טהרת המשפחה

The Laws of Family Purity
Source Sheet II

6)  תלמוד בבלי מסכת נדה דף לא עמוד ב

תניא, היה ר”מ אומר: מפני מה אמרה תורה נדה לשבעה – מפני שרגיל בה, וקץ בה, אמרה תורה: תהא טמאה שבעה ימים, כדי שתהא חביבה על בעלה כשעת כניסתה לחופה.

6)  Tractate of Nidda 31b

It was taught: R. Meir used to say, Why did the Torah ordain that the uncleanness of menstruation should continue for seven days? Because being in constant contact with his wife[a husband might] develop a loathing towards her. The Torah, therefore, ordained: Let herbe unclean for seven daysin order thatshe shall be beloved by her husband as at the time of her first entry into the bridal chamber.


R. Meir was a Tanna who lived in the 2nd century.  What is his homiletic message?  Can we possibly learn anything from him regarding the practice of niddah in his day?

 7)  תלמוד בבלי מסכת נדה דף סו עמוד א

אמר רב יוסף אמר רב יהודה אמר רב, התקין רבי בשדות: ראתה יום אחד – תשב ששה והוא, שנים – תשב ששה והן, שלשה – תשב שבעה נקיים.

אמר ר’ זירא: בנות ישראל החמירו על עצמן, שאפילו רואות טפת דם כחרדל – יושבות עליה שבעה נקיים.

7)  Tractate of Nidda 66a

Said Rav Yoseph said Rav Yehudah said Rav:  Rebbe [Rabbi Judah the Prince] enacted in Sadot that if [a woman] saw blood for one day, that she should abstain for six and that [one day];  if she saw blood for two [days] that she should abstain for six and those [two]; but if she saw blood for three days, she must abstain for seven clean days.

Said Rebbe Zeira:  The daughters of Israel assumed a stringency upon themselves, that even if they see a blood spot the size of a mustard seed, they abstain for seven clean days.

8)  רש”י מסכת נדה דף סו עמוד א

בשדות – מקום שאין בני תורה ואינן יודעות למנות פתח נדות מתי הן ימי נדה מתי הן ימי זוב.

ששה והוא – כדין תורה ושמא בימי נדה הוא.

שנים תשב ששה והן – לחומרא שמא ראשון סוף זוב ושני תחלת נדה וצריכה עוד ששה אבל שלשה דאילו הוה ימי זיבה צריכה ז’ נקיים השתא נמי תשב שבעה נקיים שמא בימי זיבה עומדת.

8)  Rashi

In Sadot – a place where there are none versed in Torah and they don’t know how to differentiate between the days of nidda and the days of zav.

Six and that [one day] – as is the law of the Torah, for they may be days of nidda.

Two [days] that she should abstain for six and those [two] – for stringency, for the first day may be the end of zivah and the second day the beginning of niddah, and six more days are necessary.  But three [days] for if they were days of zivah she needs seven clean days therefore she should sit seven clean days for she might be in the days of zivah.

•Questions:  What was Rebbe’s innovation?  What was the innovation of the daughters of Israel?  What are the benefits and drawbacks of this series of innovations?  What motivated the establishment of these new practices?

9)  תלמוד בבלי מסכת נדה דף סז עמוד ב

אמר רב: נדה בזמנה – אינה טובלת אלא בלילה, ושלא בזמנה – טובלת בין ביום בין בלילה. רבי יוחנן אמר: בין בזמנה בין שלא בזמנה – אינה טובלת אלא בלילה, משום סרך בתה. ואף רב הדר ביה, דאמר רבי חייא בר אשי אמר רב: נדה, בין בזמנה בין שלא בזמנה – אינה טובלת אלא בלילה, משום סרך בתה . . .

אמר ליה רב פפא לרבא ולאביי: מכדי האידנא כולהו ספק זבות שוינהו רבנן, ליטבלינהו ביממא דשביעאה? משום דרבי שמעון, דתניא (ויקרא ט”ו:כ”ח)  “אחר תטהר” – “אחר” אחר לכולן, שלא תהא טומאה מפסקת ביניהן. ר’ שמעון אומר: “אחר תטהר” – אחר מעשה תטהר. אבל אמרו חכמים: אסור לעשות כן, שמא תבא לידי ספק.

9)  Tractate Niddah 67b

Rav ruled: If a niddah performs immersion at the proper time she may do it only at nightbut if she performs it after the proper timeshe may do it either in the day time or at night. R. Yohanan ruled: Whether at the proper time or after the proper time a niddah may perform immersion only at night, on account of the possibility of her daughter’s following her lead. Rav, moreover, also withdrew his ruling; for R. Hiyya the son of Ashi citing Rav said: Whether at the proper time or after the proper time a niddah may perform immersion only at night
on account of the possibility of her daughter’s following her lead . . .

Said R. Papa to Rava,  Now that the Rabbis have made all niddot into doubtful zavot,  why then should they not allow themto perform immersion in the daytime of the seventh day?  — This cannot be allowed on account of the following ruling of R. Shimon. For it was taught: “After that she shall be clean” (Leviticus 15:28),”after” means after all of them, implying that no uncleanness may intervene between them; but R. Shimon stated: “After that she shall be clean”implies that after the act she shall be clean, but the Sages have ruled that it was forbidden to do so in case she might thereby land in a doubtful situation.

10) רש”י מסכת נדה דף סז עמוד ב

בזמנה – בשביעי ובנדה דאורייתא קמיירי שלא ספרה ז’ נקיים.

בלילה – דכתיב בה (ויקרא טו) תהיה בנדתה תהא בנדתה כל ז’.

שלא בזמנה – בשמיני.

משום סרך בתה – שנוהגת אחריה לטבול ביום ואפילו בזמנה ואתיא לידי כרת ולא ידעה דאמה בשמיני הוא דטבלה ביום.

ספק זבות שוינהו – שאפילו נדה סופרת ז’ נקיים . . .

ליטבלה ביממא – דשבעה ממה נפשך אם נדה היא הרי יום טבילתה יותר מז’ לראייתה ואם זבה היא טובלת זבה ביום.

אחר מעשה – כיון שספרה מקצת היום של ז’ תטהר ע”י טבילה.

לידי ספק – שמא תשמש בו ביום ותראה מיד לאחר תשמיש ונמצא סותרת כל שלפניה וטבילתה פסולה.

10) Rashi

At the proper time – on the seventh [day] and we are dealing with niddah from the Torah where she did count seven clean days.

At night – as it is written that “she should be in her niddah” (Leviticus 15:19), she should be in her niddah all seven days.

On account of the possibility of her daughter’s following her lead – that her daughter will act like her [mother] and immerse in the day, even on the seventh day, and she will [be punished] by ‘being cut off,’ and she didn’t know that her mother immersed on the eight day.

Have made all niddot into doubtful zavot – that even a niddah counts seven clean [days]

Perform immersion in the daytime – of the seventh day for either she is a niddah and she is immersing more than seven days after seeing [blood] or she is a zivah and she immerses in the daytime.

After the act –  since she counted a little bit of the seventh day she can become purified by immersion.

Doubtful situation –  lest she have conjugal relations during the day and she sees blood immediately after relations; the result is that all the days of waiting are cancelled out and her immersion is invalid.

•Questions:  According to R. Yohanan and Rav’s revised opinion, why must a woman go to the mikveh at night and not during the day?  Why does R. Papa nonetheless insist that a woman should be able to go during the day?  According to this sugiya, who made niddot follow the more stringent decree of the zavot?

11)  תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף לא עמוד א

תנו רבנן: אין עומדין להתפלל לא מתוך דין, ולא מתוך דבר הלכה, אלא מתוך הלכה פסוקה. והיכי דמי הלכה פסוקה? אמר אביי: כי הא דרבי זירא, דאמר רבי זירא: בנות ישראל החמירו על עצמן, שאפילו רואות טיפת דם כחרדל – יושבות עליה שבעה נקיים

11)  Tractate of Brakhot 31a

The Rabbis taught in a baraita: One should not rise to pray neither amidst a lawsuit, nor amidst a matter of law, but rather amidst a clear cut rule.  And what is an example of a clear cut rule?  Abaye said: such as that of Rabbi Zeira, for Rabbi Zeira said, Jewish women have accepted upon themselves the stringency that even if they see a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed, they wait seven days.

12) רש”י מסכת ברכות דף לא עמוד א

הלכה פסוקה – שאינה צריכה עיון, שלא יהא מהרהר בה בתפלתו.

12) Rashi

A clear cut rule – one that doesn’t require deliberation, so that one shouldn’t be pondering over it during prayer.

• Questions:  What can we learn from this final source about Abaye’s opinion of the stringency?

13) בית הבחירה למאירי מסכת ברכות דף לא עמוד א

זהו דין נדה של תורה ובזמנים אלו שהזכרנו היו חכמי ישראל על כנם יודעים בטוב טהרה וטומאה והיה מתברר להם מתוך חכמתם איזהו מראה של דם טמא שממנו יהא ראוי להתחיל במנין ז’ ימי נדה ואיזה מראה של דם טהור שלא יהא מעלה או מוריד בה

אח”כ נתמעט לבן של חכמ
ים מפני כובד הגליות ותכיפת הצרות וחששו שמא יטעו בדבר זה שזדונו כרת ושגגתו חטאת שהרי אפשר שתראה האשה ז’ ימים וכל ששה הראשונים מהם דם טהר ואינם מעלים ולא מורידים ונמצא שביעי שלה שהוא ראשון וסבורה לטבול בלילה והיא צריכה לישב עוד ו’ ימים ואפי’ תאמר שמא נמצא חכם בקי במראות שאפשר לברר הדבר על ידו אפשר שתטעה מצד אחר במנין הנדות והזיבה . . .

13) Beit Ha-behira to the Meiri, the tractate of Brakhot 31a

This is the rule of niddah from the Torah and in these times that we mentioned the sages of Israel were at their finest, knowing well matters of purity and impurity.  It was clear to them according to their wisdom the sight of impure blood that was worthy to begin counting seven days of niddah and the sight of pure (non-menstrual) blood that would have no consequences.

Afterward, the wisdom of the sages was reduced due to the weight of exile and frequency of troubles, and they worried that they might err in this matter whose punishment for voluntary disobedience is being cut off from one’s people, and for involuntary disobedience is bringing a sin offering for a woman could see blood for seven days and the first six could be pure blood which do not count at all, and the seventh day turn out to be the first day of her menstrual counting, but she will think that she can immerse that evening when she really must wait another six days, and even if you say she could find a specialist to ask, perhaps she might err in another aspect of the niddah and zivah counting.

•Background:  The Meiri – Rabbi Menahem ben Solomon Meiri (1249-1316) was a famous CatalanTalmudist.  His commentary, the Beit HaBehirah (The building of choice), is one of the most monumental works written on the Talmud. This work is less a commentary and more of a digest of all of the comments in the Talmud, arranged in a manner similar to the Talmud – presenting first the mishnah and then laying out the discussions that are raised concerning it. This commentary cites many of the major Rishonim, referring to them not by name but rather by distinguished titles.  His commentary was largely unknown for centuries until being republished in modern times. Thus, it has had much less influence on subsequent halakhic development than would have been expected given its stature.

Questions:  According to the Meiri, what led the Rabbis to be so cautious in issues related to niddah?

Go to Family Purity Summary

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