By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
I remember one chol ha’moed Pesach going with a rosh yeshiva and his family to a Mets game. The rosh yeshiva had a son in my class and he invited me to come along. The Mets were good back then, so there was no question of causing needless distress during yom tov! We brought our own potato chips and box drinks. There was definitely no kosher stand back then.
The vendors came around hawking their goodies, but they did not profit from us. An interesting question that arises is, may you take a deep whiff when the vendor comes around offering his hot pretzels? May one smell chametz on Pesach? Are you allowed to walk past the Entenmann’s bakery on Pesach? Would it be preferable to find another route? Did we have to get off our seats and temporarily relocate to another section while the pretzel man was there?
A seemingly unrelated question: If church bells sound a nice melody to call parishioners to prayer, may one stop and enjoy the music?
Rebbe Shimon ben Pazi says in the name of Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi: One is not liable for me’ilah for sounds, sights, and smells (Pesachim 26a). Me’ilah is a serious offense that enjoins an individual from deriving personal benefit from consecrated property. How could one personally benefit from the sound of consecrated property? Rashi explains that potentially one could have violated me’ilah for sitting and listening to the melody emanating from the musical instruments that the Leviyim employed in their service. Those musical instruments are consecrated property. It could be argued that listening to the Leviyim’s music is tantamount to using consecrated property for personal use. However, the Gemara states that one cannot violate me’ilah by merely listening to the melodies.
Yet, Rava infers that while the severe offense of me’ilah is not transgressed, there is a less severe prohibition involved. Practically, then, one is still enjoined from listening to the melodies of the Leviyim’s instruments.
Rabbeinu Yerucham extrapolates that in other areas of Torah law as well, where one is prohibited from deriving benefit from an item, he cannot enjoy its smell, sounds, or appearance (sight) either. Rabbeinu Yerucham therefore concludes that one is not allowed to listen to the music used in service of avodah zarah, since benefit from idolatry is forbidden.
The Minchas Elazar was asked if one may glance at the clock on the top of a church steeple to set his watch or otherwise ascertain the time. He concluded that according to the letter of the law it is permitted. The large clock is not used in the service of avodah zarah. It is just a public service provided by the church. Often, other tall buildings such as banks or office towers have clocks on them as well. It may provide beautification to the church building; however, that is not reason enough to forbid its use. However, the Minchas Elazar concludes it is best not to use clocks on churches to ascertain the time.
It would seem that the Minchas Elazar would certainly forbid one to sit and enjoy the sounds of church bells. Church bells are used exclusively by churches and are not normally found on other buildings. And church bells are used to further avodah zarah by calling people to prayer. It would seem that the sounds of a church bell are more likely to be avodah zarah than the sight of a church clock.
So, we cannot assume that one may derive benefit from a particular sound, sight, or smell merely because it is an intangible pleasure. There are laws governing them as well. The question now arises about the aroma of chametz. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 443:1) states that from the sixth hour of erev Pesach until the conclusion of Pesach, one may not derive any benefit from chametz. The Rema adds that one may not even derive benefit from the chametz of a gentile.
The Biur Halachah cites many Acharonim who rule that one may not smell the aroma of warm bread being baked by a gentile on Pesach. Since we may not derive benefit from the bread, we may not enjoy its aroma either. The Chemed Moshe questions this ruling. Yet it seems that the Biur Halachah leans toward siding with those Acharonim that are stringent. Further, if the chametz food in question is kosher for non-Pesach consumption, the Biur Halachah says there is another reason one should not smell it—because he may come to eat it.
Rav Hershel Schachter, in a pre-Pesach question-and-answer session in 2011, told those who attended that they should not intentionally smell the delectable aroma coming from a non-Jewish bakery’s chametz on Pesach. He was further asked whether one has to leave the room if a non-Jewish coworker has chametz whose pleasant aroma pervades the room. Rav Schachter answered that he does not. He reminisced that his uncle occasionally used to kick the kids out of the room so that they shouldn’t smell the neighbor’s basar b’chalav. However, Rav Schachter said that his uncle was a holy man who kept halachic stringencies and it was not a requirement.
The source for Rav Schachter’s ruling that one does not have to avoid the aroma of chametz, but just can’t intentionally smell it, comes from the same daf we started with. The Gemara discusses pleasure that one experiences unintentionally. The Gemara concludes that even if one has a way of avoiding the forbidden pleasure in question, he need not do so, as long as he doesn’t intend to enjoy the pleasure. As an example, the Chofetz Chaim rules that one may walk past a house of avodah zarah that has pleasant melodies emanating from the inside. This is true even if there is an alternative route one could take that totally avoids the house of avodah zarah. As long as he does not intend to enjoy the sounds of avodah zarah, he may pass by. Likewise, the Chofetz Chaim says that one does not have to close his nose to avoid smelling the aromas of avodah zarah. One need not shut his eyes to avoid unintentionally glancing at beautiful avodah zarah.
If one’s usual path takes him past the Entenmann’s bakery, he need not change his route on Pesach. He just should remember not to intentionally take a whiff. So, too, one may unintentionally smell soft pretzels on Pesach but should not inhale to purposely enjoy the smell. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.