Saying A Mouthful
During the week of April 11, one of us submitted a letter to the editor in response to Rabbi Yair Hoffman’s article of the previous week discussing the preferred way of fulfilling the commandment to eat matzah on the night of Passover. Rabbi Hoffman advised that, contrary to what people may have experienced at their parents’ Seder, the optimal, though non-exclusive, method calls for placing in one’s mouth two olive-sized portions of matzah and then swallowing each portion as a whole. Rabbi Hoffman’s presentation was based on the commentary of the Mishnah Berurah (475:1:9) to the position of the Beis Yoseph, as codified in the Shulchan Aruch (in which the Chayei Adam (130:9) and the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (475:6) concur).
In the responsive letter, it was suggested, perhaps with too blithe a tone, that people should not feel compelled to abandon their family custom for the method advocated by the Mishnah Berurah. It was noted that the Mishnah Berurah, in the Biur Halachah, and the Aruch HaShulchan variously questioned the premises on which the holding of the Beis Yoseph rests. The Five Towns Jewish Times published the letter along with a rejoinder from Rabbi Hoffman. In the rejoinder, Rabbi Hoffman in essence admonishes that it was not proper to challenge the ruling of the Mishnah Berurah, as “The Chofetz Chaim’s authority in both Hilchos Lashon HaRa and in Orech Chaim has become normative Torah practice.”
In this reply, we take issue with Rabbi Hoffman on two important points.
Contrary to the impression that may be formed from reading Rabbi Hoffman’s article and his rejoinder, the position of the latter-day poskim concerning the optimal method of observing mitzvas matzah at the Seder is not monolithic. Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, in his work Leil HaSeder, Kinor David, pages 128–130 (Mossad Harav Kook 2011) reaches a conclusion at odds with the Mishnah Berurah, based on some of the greatest of the contemporary halachic decisors. It is worth quoting Rav Rimon at some length, in English translation, because he gives authoritative expression to the reservations that we suspect many share with us regarding the position of the Beis Yoseph:
“Many of the great ones of Israel were accustomed not to eat two kezeisim, at once, but rather continuously without interruption . . . Such was the practice of the Chazon Ish and the Kehilos Yaakov [the Steipler Gaon] . . . So too the Gaon Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach used to say that the Torah was given to mankind. And therefore, matzah should be eaten in the normal manner and not in strange ways. According to him, one who chews the entire measure in order to swallow it at once, possibly [is eating in a manner that] constitutes achilah gasa [a gruff manner of eating] with which one does not fulfill his obligation. He adds that in his youth he sat with the great ones of the generation at the night of the Seder, and each received a piece of matzah that was not large, and none of them stuffed the matzah into his mouth . . . And so did write Harav Mordechai Eliyahu . . . that ‘it is better not to insert both matzos at once in his mouth, because this is not derech achilah [the manner of eating], and the Torah commanded, “at night you shall eat matzah”’” (source citations omitted).
To the impressive group of poskim cited by Rav Rimon might also be added Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt’l. The Haggadah shel Pesach Mipi Hashemuah attributed to Rav Elyashiv, authored by his great-grandson Rav Moshe Yisraelson (2011), reports the positions and practices of Rav Elyashiv regarding the conduct of the Seder and related matters. In the section entitled “Halachos of Pesach from Our Teacher” (page 26), the author writes, “One should try to act quickly in the eating of the kezeisim as much as possible, and according to the words of the Yerushalmi, the entire kezayis should be swallowed at once,” implying that the latter practice is not necessarily normative. And in the section entitled “Customs of Our Teacher” (page 39), he reports that Rav Elyashiv “looked at this watch to track the measure of time of achilas pras in the course of eating the kezeisim,” clearly indicating that Rav Elyashiv did not swallow the kezeisim at one time.
There is a second issue as well. Rabbi Hoffman implies that it would be appropriate to abandon the custom of one’s parents for the p’sak of the Mishnah Berurah as to the preferred method of observing mitzvas matzah. This is questionable. Chapter 13 of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Handbook of Jewish Thought, Volume 1 (1979) is devoted to “custom,” commonly referred to as minhag. Citing an impressive array of authorities, Rabbi Kaplan writes, “Wherever there is any question of law and a local or regional custom exists, the custom should be followed. The custom should be observed even if it follows the opinion of a single authority who is disputed by the majority” (paragraph 13:35, page 271).
We have not conducted a formal study, but as far as we can tell from the customs of the Seder handed down in our own family, it was the practice of the Jews of Polish Galicia to consume the matzah at the Seder as Rav Rimon suggests, in an ordinary manner of eating. We appreciate that there is much to discuss regarding the force and authority of custom, and how the customs of our European grandparents and great-grandparents are to be followed in our communities in America. (Rabbi Kaplan codifies a variety of issues of relevance in this regard.) But one thing we believe is clear. It is not a given that these customs should or even may be discarded, even in deference to as monumental a figure as the Mishnah Berurah, where, as here, there is substantial authority in support of one’s parent’s traditional method of observance.
In conclusion, we note that the role of popular custom as indicative of halachic practice has a special place in the Passover tradition. The Talmud relates (Pesachim 66a) that Hillel had forgotten the halachah of how a knife to slaughter the Paschal sacrifice may be brought to the Temple when Passover eve falls on the Sabbath. He declared, “Leave it to Israel. If they are not prophets, they are the descendants of prophets.” On the following day, the Talmud recounts, when the people arrived with the knives inserted in the wool and horns of the animals, Hillel remembered this was indeed the halachah.
If our parents were not prophets, they too are the descendants of prophets, and their traditions as well should not lightly be disregarded.
Abbe Dienstag, Lawrence
Aryeh Dienstag, Far Rockaway
Rabbi Hoffman Responds
As I twice noted earlier, the Mishnah Berurah himself does not advocate following the Shulchan Aruch’s position of swallowing simultaneously. He does, however, follow the Shulchan Aruch’s idea that both be in the mouth simultaneously. Certainly, if one has a family mesorah otherwise, then one should follow that mesorah. If, however, one is unclear as to his or her mesorah, the Mishnah Berurah’s ideal should—as in all areas of halachah—be followed if possible. If it is too difficult or if it would represent an impossible form of eating, then one should follow the other methods that he presents as also valid. One should never disregard family minhagim that have a basis in tradition. This minhag, as I pointed out, developed later on account of a machlokes Rishonim.
Achiezer To The Rescue
Writing a letter to the editor is not something we could have imagined doing. Writing a letter to the editor of a Five Towns-based paper seems even more far-fetched, considering the fact that we are a family from Boro Park.
We have the privilege of visiting this community every few weeks or so, as our father, Rav Boruch Itzkowitz, serves as one of the rabbanim at “Rabbi Katz’s shtiebel” in Far Rockaway. It was erev yom tov of the first days of Pesach and, like many other Jewish families, we ran into the fiasco that is known as Rockaway Turnpike. An electric pole falls down, a car catches fire, emergency vehicles racing, lanes closing, bein ha’shmashos approaching—and we were stuck. A car full of screaming kids didn’t help matters, and we were at a standstill except for a few inches of movement every few minutes. Driving to Far Rockaway and reaching our destination in time was certainly not going to happen, and we didn’t know what to do.
After a few phone calls to some family members already in Far Rockaway for yom tov, we were put in touch with Achiezer and Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender, who was able to come up with a solution—for us, aside from nearly a dozen other families who called for help—when there were no other options in sight. The calm and reassuring dialogue on the ensuing phone calls was refreshing and calming and gave us hope in our desperate situation.
We were instructed to pull over and just wait for our help. And wait we did . . . until suddenly, out of nowhere, a “Shabbos goy” from Achiezer pulled up with a minivan and, with the p’sak of our rav, drove us to our destination after the z’man had passed. Following all halachic guidelines to a tee, Manuel was a shaliach to be our savior.
What stands out for us—and I guess the point of writing this letter—is that this community is so fortunate to have an organization like Achiezer to help and guide people through their most tense and trying times, while doing so with class, dignity, and mentchlechkeit. We are thankful and privileged to consider ourselves members of this special community and only wish that other communities would follow the lead of Achiezer and be there to help when nobody else can.
The Itzkowitz Family
Running And Walking
For Israel’s Veterans
On April 27, I will be participating in the 5th Annual 5 Towns 5K Run/Walk organized by FIDV (Friends of Israeli Disabled Veterans), in support of the Beit Halochem rehabilitation centers in Israel. This is my fourth year participating, and I cannot fully express the joy it brings every year as I continue to see the number of race participants increase year after year, in support of this worthwhile organization. While most Israelis and many Jews know of these centers, and we have begun to build awareness throughout our community, it’s not enough. The centers support Israel’s disabled veterans and their families and victims of terror throughout Israel, and our goal is to continue to build awareness beyond just the boundaries of our community.
Some people assume that I participate in the race simply because I am Jewish or because my parents were born in Israel. While those reasons may have been what initially drew me to the cause, they are no longer the strongest factor in my desire to participate.
My father Uriel served in Tzahal, the Israeli armed forces, from August 1962 to February 1965. He was then called upon to serve in the Six Day War in 1967. I cannot begin to explain the pride I have for my father, knowing of his involvement in such an important war for Israel. While he may have gone through his service and the war unscathed, many others, including some of his own friends, were not as lucky.
During the Yom Kippur War, in October 1973, my father’s dear friend Moshe served as a tank commander. One day, in the course of battle, his tank was hit by an Egyptian missile, with him inside. Most of the soldiers in his tank were killed instantly. While Moshe was lucky to survive, he immediately went into shock and was sent to the hospital. The years that followed were traumatic. Moshe went from hospital to hospital undergoing extensive psychological treatments to learn how to live life again. His mental state included suffering from night terrors, continuing to relive the horrific event of the exploding tank, and adjusting to the sudden loss of his close comrades. Years later, when the doctors finally declared him stable to enter the world again, Moshe began his treatments at the Beit Halochem center in Tel Aviv.
The center in Tel Aviv opened in 1974. The almost-100,000-square-foot complex consists of a multipurpose gym, treatment rooms, classrooms, culture halls, massage and hydrotherapy unit, and the like. During the course of his rehabilitation, Moshe made use of most of the center’s amenities. He continued to receive necessary psychological treatments, and began to interact with others. The social functions at the center helped him integrate into the world once again. He took part in sporting events, and took classes in art and photography. Today the center holds an exhibit of many of his photographs. Furthermore, Moshe has published three books to date that include his own poems, songs, photographs, and sketches. Beit Halochem helped him channel his fear and anguish into beautiful forms of art. To this day, Moshe continues to use the rehabilitation services of the Tel Aviv center, and will do so for the rest of his life. Moshe now has a wife, three children, and five grandchildren, so far. Beit Halochem gave him that.
Beit Halochem has grown over the years. It has added three more centers in Haifa, Jerusalem, and Be’er Sheva, and plans are under way for one in Ashdod. It now not only treats Israel’s disabled veterans, but also victims of terror. Unlike other veteran associations throughout the world, Israel and Beit Halochem are unique in that the government provides medical assistance, donations, and a broad spectrum of social services to not only the veterans and victims themselves, but to their family members as well. This type of assistance helps keep families intact and functional, and enables them to better handle what their family members have gone through.
When I think of FIDV and the 5 Towns 5K Run/Walk, I don’t only want to participate because I am Jewish, or because my parents were born in Israel. I do it for Moshe, and all those like him. I think of what would have become of him if Beit Halochem did not exist, and it makes me want to stop every person I see on the street and convince them to participate as well. I am now reaching out to you and all of your readers and asking for help for those like Moshe. You can visit us at www.5towns5k.org for more information. Participation is crucial to raising the profile of this selfless organization. I hope to see you and all your readers there!
Very truly yours,
What can we do as individuals to counter the insidious BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) campaign against Israel? For starters, we can purchase products made in Israel, specifically those from companies operating wholly or partially in Judaea and Samaria. Please click on http://blog.partners4israel.org/2014/02/list-of-settlement-products_24.html. Let’s buy-cott, not boycott!
Calling On Hatzalah
Thank you, Hatzalah! We have called you numerous times since we moved to this community 12 years ago. You drove us to the hospital when my daughter couldn’t breathe properly and she needed to be transported with oxygen. When another daughter swallowed something and we were unable to get it out, we called you. When my son fell and split his lip, we called you. You give us peace of mind knowing that you are there in a heartbeat. There are times you have shown up to our home after a call in less than 60 seconds! We are always amazed at how you put everything on hold in a split second to help another in need.
Our most memorable Hatzalah visit was the time we called because I refused to get into the car to go to the hospital to have a baby. Envisioning giving birth in the car, I refused to get into the car. “Please call Hatzalah; I’m just nervous,” I asked my husband. They took the call seriously and came right away. Baruch Hashem—because our daughter was born a minute or so after the first responder arrived!
Our family is so grateful to all of your volunteers.
A very grateful Cedarhurst family
Our Fathers’ Friends
Thank you for taking note of the petirah of my father, Rabbi Ephraim Rubin, and for sharing your personal reminiscences (“Heard in the Bagel Store: My Father’s Friend,” April 11). My own are very similar. I have no clear recollection of meeting your parents as a young boy, but they were a constant presence in our home; they had met, they were planning to meet, they were on the phone, and so on.
My parents have that same picture of the group of friends dressed for dinner, and it is very characteristic of my parents and their lives at that time.
During the shivah week, I referred to them as of “the greatest generation.” The phrase entered the vocabulary as the title of a 1998 book by Tom Brokaw about “American citizens who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America.”
Our parents traveled unthinkable distances in Jewish terms, lived and coped and succeeded through years of isolation and insecurity and casual and routine bigotry; years during which it was entirely unclear that Hitler would not triumph and become a permanent part of a new reality, and more years in which a weakened Judaism suffered new assaults.
We see them in the picture as strong and assured, soldiers in the building of modern Orthodox Jewish America in their individual fields of endeavor. Content in their accomplishments, but with never a respite. That is what I see.
My sisters Chana Steinmetz and Mindy Gluck and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the rabbanim and neighbors who cared for and supported us during my father’s recent infirmity and our family’s ordeals, among all of she’ar avelei Tzion v’Yerushalayim.