1-5771 Mitzvah N-90

Torat Emet
1-5771 Mitzvah N-90
10/11/10
Negative Mitzvah 90– This is a negative commandment: do not eat a limb or any part taken from an animal while it still is living.
Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall not eat the life with the flesh” (Devarim . 12:23); and by the Oral Tradition it was learned that this is an admonition not to eat a limb or part that was cut from a living creature. If someone ate an olive’s amount from a living animal, he should receive whiplashes. Even if he ate a whole organ or limb, if it contained an olive’s amount he should be whipped; and if it did not contain an olive’s amount, he would be free of penalty. Yet if he ate an organ or limb from a living creature and also some flesh from a live animal he would violate two prohibitions, This commandment and (#87 – You shall not eat any flesh in the field that is trefah [Ex. 22:30])
This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.
While the Hafetz Hayim takes this law from Deuteronomy, it is also part of the “Seven Commandments of Noah” which were given right after the flood and are considered, under Jewish Law, to apply to all human beings, not just Jews. Jews have 613 commandments to follow according to tradition, but non-Jews are only obligated for seven, and this is one of them. We should understand that any person who would tear a limb from a living animal in order to eat it, by this act is showing that he or she has no basic compassion or humanity. The unspeakable pain to the animal by this action should be considered as evidence of the heartlessness and cruelty of the human who acts is such a way. The punishment is lashes and we can see that the pain of the whip is in direct measure to the pain that person caused the animal. If any other part of the animal besides the limb or organ is consumed, it is a double violation of cruelty and eating trefah. I have to assume that the reason the law is mentioned is because at one time this was the practice in some locations. I like to think that the only “people” who do such things today are psychopaths.
The underlying assumption here is that animals have feelings. Perhaps they are not “sentient” creatures as human being are but there is increasing evidence that human beings are not as unique as we would like to believe we are. In fact, anthropologists are having an increasingly hard time drawing the line where human beings begin and where animals end. To say that animals don’t have the same feelings as we do, is just not true. We can site many laws in Judaism that take into account the feelings of animals; sending the mother bird away before taking her eggs; not boiling a goat in its mother’s milk; permission to violate Shabbat to save the life of an animal. These are just a few examples.
But even if you don’t like to admit that animals have feelings, there is also the damage that such acts of cruelty have on people as well. There is plenty of evidence that those who have tortured and murdered other people, started out torturing and killing animals. Judaism took the killing of all animals out of the hands of most Jews, regulating the killing of animals by assigning one class of people, those trained in the laws of Shechita, of ritual slaughter, as the only ones given permission to kill animals. Most Jews do not kill animals even for their own food. Hunting is not a Jewish sport. Neither is cock fighting, dog fighting, bear baiting or other forms of animal cruelty that seem to plague society even in our modern times.
I don’t think that Judaism would have a problem with training animals to perform tricks for public amusement, as long as the training did not involve inflicting pain and suffering on the animal. A reward for proper actions is permitted, but the punishment involved must take into account the feelings of the animal. An animal trainer must not be heartless.
Animals who are guilty of cruelty to humans can be put to death. If an animal who never harmed anyone suddenly turns and wounds or kills a human being, such an animal must be restrained and kept away from the public. If the animal should escape and attack again, not only will it be put to death but the owner is also liable for not properly restraining the animal.

28-5770 Mitzvah N-89

Torat Emet 28-5770 Mitzvah N-89
08/09/10

Negative Mitzvah 89– This is a negative commandment: do not eat any blood at all.

Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall not eat blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal” (Lev. 7:26). Untamed animals are included under the term “b’hemah” (animal). If someone ate an olive’s amount of blood deliberately, he would deserve “karet” (Divine severance of existence); if it was unwitting, he would have to bring a sin offering. Human blood is forbidden by the law of the Sages, but only if it left the person. The blood of kosher fish and locusts is permissible.

This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.

In the first chapter of the book of Genesis, God commands human beings to eat what grows in the field and on trees. It seems to be implying that humanity was created to be vegetarian. And yet, almost from the beginning, humanity has shown a very violent side, with killings, homicide and war that seems to date back into ancient history. It is only after the the great Flood, that God gives Noah permission to eat meat, as long as the blood of the animal is spilled on the ground. Blood is the life of an animal and we are told, from the very beginning that we are not allowed to eat blood. The exceptions noted above for fish and locusts, I think reflect the status of these creatures that “swarm” rather than normal animals that may flock together but are not considered “swarming”. (Certain locusts are considered kosher for eating as long as they have specific attributes. We are no longer clear about which locusts fall into the kosher category so we don’t consider locusts kosher anymore. I am sure that many of you will be happy to learn this).

Leviticus details what we are to do with the blood of sacrifices. Again, it is spilled at the base of the alter. We are not to use it in any way since it is the essence of life. Later, when it is permitted to eat meat that is not sacrificed on the alter, the same rules of slaughter and draining the blood still apply.

The essence of Kosher Slaughter (Shechita) is to kill the animal painlessly and quickly in a manner that will make draining the blood easier. The double cut across the throat (and the quick beheading of fowl) allows most of the blood to drain out quickly. But “most of the blood” is not enough. We are not allowed to ingest any blood whatsoever. Therefore, kosher meat and fowl must be soaked and salted prior to being cooked in order to draw out the last of the blood in the meat. Meat that is to be broiled does not have to be soaked and salted since broiling will remove the blood as long as it is cooked enough (if you like your meat rare, it is best to soak and salt it first). Two organs, the heart and the liver are considered to be so blood soaked that soaking and salting will not be sufficient for removing the blood. These two organs can be “kashered” only by broiling these organs.

There is an important detail here that also must be mentioned. The prohibition against eating blood includes only blood that is ingested. Jews are allowed to have blood transfusions of human blood drawn from another human being without any question whatsoever. Not only is it permitted, it is required if needed for health reasons. One is not allowed to endanger one’s life or health. There are some people of other faiths that read this passage in Leviticus and do not permit blood transfusions. This is NOT the Jewish view of this law.

27-5770 Mitzvah N-88

Torat Emet
27-5770 Mitzvah N-88
08/02/10

Negative Mitzvah 88– This is a negative commandment: do not eat forbidden fat.

Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall not eat ‘helev’ (forbidden fat) of ox, sheep or goats.” (Lev. 7:23). If someone ate an olive’s amount of helev from one of these three animals, if it was deliberate he would deserve Karet (Divine severance of existence); and if he did it unintentionally, he would be required to offer up a sin offering. The helev of the fat tail (of a ram) is permissible; because not all that is connected with an offering is called helev, only such as the fat on the entrails, the kidneys and the loins. Sinews in helev are forbidden; the helev of untamed species of kosher animals is permissible.
This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.

This Mitzvah is not about cholesterol reduction or weight loss. This is about a special kind of fat called “helev” which is never permitted for use as food. It was only used as part of a sacrifice when the animal would be shared, some of it being burned on the alter, some given to the officiating priest and some returned to the family to be eaten as a symbolic way of joining God for a ritual dinner. In most instances, the animal was killed, cut apart and divided into sections; parts no suitable for food were sent to the scrap heap. The blood was poured out at the base of the alter. The rest was “cooked” on the alter; some of the cooked meat would be given to the priests, some given to the family who donated the animal to share as a sacred meal and the helev and some organs were burned to ashes on the alter. Helev was never to be eaten by anyone, it was always burned on the alter. The Hafetz Hayim notes that anything in the helev was also forbidden but the fat tail of rams, while that fat was also called helev, it was not forbidden to be eaten.

Let me use this time to comment on some of the other technical terms that we have not discussed in a while. To violate a food law, the usual measure is an olive’s bulk. Less than that was considered too small to bother with. An olive’s bulk, according to Phillip Blackman, in his Mishna commentary, is equivalent to 91.6 cubic cm or 5.59 cubic inches. That is a pretty good bite of food.

Karet is a rather difficult punishment to define. We define it above as “Divine severance of existence”. As usual, when we are talking about divine punishments, we really don’t understand what God has in mind. Most Rabbis take this punishment to mean that one does not merit heaven (Gan Eden) after death, but that person’s soul is exterminated and for that soul there is only oblivion. What exactly does that mean? That the punishment of karet is in God’s hands and we human beings do not get involved.

The punishment of bringing a sin offering is usual for violating the Torah unintentionally. Since we no longer offer sacrifices, the punishment would only apply if the Messiah comes and rebuilds the Temple. Until that happens, we don’t worry anymore about sin offerings.

I actually hesitated before including this negative Mitzvah because it really is a Mitzvah only for those involved in ritual slaughter. I don’t include information here for the training of a “Shochet,” one who performs ritual slaughter. We have included some details about “Shechita,” the kosher method of slaughter for large animals, but I have refrained from getting too much into detail. Anyone who is reading these lessons and wants to learn how to train as a Schochet, should train under a qualified Rabbi or Schochet, and be reading more technical writings. My expertise in Jewish law would not be sufficient to train for a career in ritual slaughter.

25-5770 Mitzvah N-87

Torat Emet
25-5770 Mitzvah N-87
07/27/10

Negative Mitzvah 87– This is a negative commandment: do not eat trayfa

Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall not eat any flesh in the field that is trayfa, torn of beasts” (Ex. 22:30). The term trayfa stated in the Torah means an animal which a wild beast of the forest has torn, and so likewise a fowl that was clawed by a bird of prey, such as a falcon or anything similar, in such a way that the animal or fowl cannot survive, because of that attack. Even if a person acts in advance and ritually slays it with a proper kosher shechitah, it is forbidden as trayfa. This is called d’rusha (clawed). Then there are seven other kinds of trayfa animals, which are forbidden by a law given orally to Moses at Sinai. These are: a creature with a perforated vital organ; one with an internal organ removed; one that fell from a height; one with an internal organ, etc. missing originally; one with a severance of the spinal column; one with the flesh covering the stomach torn; and one with most of its ribs broken. Whenever an animal or fowl develops a wound, such that it cannot live another twelve months because of this wound, whether it received the wound from a wild beast or a human being or by the hand of Heaven [natural causes] or it fell from the roof – it is forbidden. So too, flesh from a living creature is likewise called trayfa; and whoever eats an olive’s amount of it should receive whiplashes by the law of the Torah. If an embryo put out its forelegs from the womb of the animal, that limb is forbidden, in the category of flesh that has gone out of its bounds.
This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.

As I wrote in the last lesson, dietary laws are a big part of Judaism. We are not permitted to eat anything we want at anytime we want. We can only eat kosher food and only after it has been prepared properly. Trayfa is one of the categories of food that Jews are forbidden to eat.

Let me first deal with the technical definition of trayfa. Jewish Law defines meat as “trayf” if it has a major defect or has a major injury that makes it unlikely to be able to survive on its own. If the animal has been attacked by another animal, a predator or even another animal of the same species in some kind of territorial or mating conflict, or if the animal had a wound from an accident, and so the animal is so injured that it will not heal of its own, or that it dies, that meat is forbidden to be eaten because it is “torn” [trayfa]. We are permitted to eat meat only if we kill it ourselves according to the laws of shechitah [ritual slaughter]. Road kill or any other injured or dying animal is not allowed. (Becoming a vegetarian is beginning to look better all the time, isn’t it?)

Further, even ft the animal is killed properly, there needs to be an inspection of the carcass to make sure that there are not any hidden reasons the animal might not survive. Deformed or missing organs, hidden injuries etc. all make an animal not permitted for human consumption.

I need to pause here to reflect a moment on the issue of “oral law given to Moses at Sinai”. Tradition from the Rabbinic period tells us that there are two Torahs. One was a written Torah that, as described in Exodus, was given to our ancestors at Mt. Sinai. The other Torah is an “oral” Torah, also given by God to Moses during the 40 days Moses was on Mt. Sinai. This Oral Torah fills in the obvious gaps in the Written Torah. Both of these law codes are therefore divine and binding. Modern scholarship, however, tells us a different story. After the return of the Jewish Exiles from Babylonia during the time of Ezra, the Torah was redacted into its final form and read to the people for the first time in public. That made the text of the Torah fixed for all time. From that moment on, Sages and Rabbis began to explain the law, fill in the missing details and adapt the Torah to fit with current legal and social needs. These discussions and rabbinic pronouncements were codified in the Mishna, and later in the Talmud. The authority for these adaptations and changes in the laws of the Written Torah was then declared to be as old as Written Torah and that both came from God at Sinai. (Since there are parts of both the Written and Oral Torah that were ancient even in ancient times, this seemed like a good way to frame both laws as authoritative because they were the word of God.) When you see this phrase, “oral law given to Moses at Sinai” you can either believe this as true or you can understand this as referring to a law that was added by later Sages.

There is a third category of trayfa that forbids us to eat any limb that is taken from a living animal. This applies to baby animals once their forelegs have emerged from the womb of its mother. It does not matter if the removal causes the death of the animal or not, the meat is forbidden.

In the modern world, trayfa has come to mean any food that is not kosher. It has gone far beyond meat, into every aspect of food preparation. Any food item that cannot be certified kosher, is thus trayf and forbidden to be eaten by Jews. The difficult part is that the qualifications of what is permitted, what is certified Kosher, have become so strict that foods that were once permitted, are now declared trayf. Sometimes this makes a lot of sense, for example, nobody will certify Kosher a hot dog bun that has milk in it. The milk does not make the bun trayf, but since its purpose is to be eaten with a meat hot dot, it just does not make sense to permit the buns to be kosher. Sometimes things get absurd, when one authority declares food by a rival authority trayf. Sometimes a food company will put an unauthorized kosher mark on food that was not certified, and sometimes one authority will refuse to permit a perfectly kosher food to carry certification because of a dispute over pay or benefits. This is not to say that Jews should just give up on keeping Kosher, it just means that those who keep kosher should be prepared to do some homework. In some cases, there is no other alternative for a vendor to charge more for food that has been certified kosher. In other cases, there is no functional difference between how the two foods are processed and there should be little difference in price. Sometimes, the costs of production of a food item changes so that the foods being produced have to change to a cheaper ingredient that may not meet Kosher standards. Many food additives are functionally dairy or from trayf sources. Today it is almost impossible to keep up with the rapidly changing food industry.

This is why it seems everyone has his or her own standards of what they will accept as kosher and what they will not eat as trayf. No matter how kosher your home may be, you will always find someone that is more strict than you and who will not eat in your home. It is impossible to please everyone. So don’t try. Keep a level of Kashrut that you and your family can live with and if that is not enough for everyone, well, you are off the hook for serving them dinner. Never let anyone, other than YOUR rabbi, take control of what you serve in your kitchen.

Finally, while food may be Kosher, we also have to look at the ethics of how food is produced. It is one thing to say that the laws of Kashrut have been followed and the food is not trayf, and permitted to be eaten by Jews. It is another thing to turn a blind eye to food processors who mistreat employees, violate secular laws and cut corners on the production line, who hire illegal immigrants and treat them like slave labor or engage in deceptive advertising or not giving the consumers what they are paying for. The food may be permitted, but the ethics of the owner/manager may not be kosher at all. That is why we are seeing a new area of Kashrut called “Magen Tzedek” where the business practices are as kosher as the food being produced. This new certification should be coming to a store near you soon.

24-5770 Mitzvah N-86

Torat Emet
24-5770 Mitzvah N-86
07/18/10

Negative Mitzvah 86– This is a negative commandment: do not eat N’velah

Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall not eat anything that dies of itself” (Deut. 14:21). The term N’velah denotes any domestic or wild animal or fowl, that dies of itself or that was not given proper shechitah (ritual slaughter). Whoever eats an olive’s amount from it should receive whiplashes. If someone eats an olive’s amount of the flesh of a stillborn kosher animal, he violates the prohibition on N’veah. It is forbidden therefore to eat the newborn young of an animal until the start of the night of the eighth day, when it is no longer in doubt of being able to survive. If it is know that its months or gestation have been completed, it is permissible immediately at birth.
This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.

Dietary laws are a big part of Judaism. We are not permitted to eat anything we want at anytime we want. We can only eat kosher food and only after it has been prepared properly. N’velah is one of the categories of food that Jews are forbidden to eat.

On the one hand, we already have an aversion to eating something that is already dead. If we did not do the killing, humans have an assumption that there is something wrong with the dead animal. We know, for example, that other animals mostly only kill the damaged or sick animals from the herd, leaving the healthy animals to live to breed again. That is all part of the law of evolution. Human beings, however, are not to be scavengers. Animals killed by another animal (see the next mitzvah) or animals that die from disease or accident, are not permitted as food. This, as the Hafetz Hayim points out in his summary, is the direct law from the Torah.

The difficulty comes when we don’t know if an animal is in the process of dying by itself from a disease. The case cited above is of a newborn animal. We don’t have any way of “knowing” the reason behind a stillbirth of an animal. We have to assume that there is something wrong with the fetus and therefore the fetus would be N’velah and forbidden to be eaten. If the animal gives birth and the birth is normal, we wait eight days to make sure that the newborn is viable before we slaughter it and eat it. If the animal has any serious birth defects, it will, by the eighth day, be apparent and we will know if we can eat it or not. Most of the time we really don’t know when an animal will give birth because we usually are not there at the moment of insemination. We can only guess as to when the proper time for birth will be so we don’t really know if the animal is born premature or not. In the rare instance, when we know exactly when the animal should give birth, and we therefore know that the newborn is “full term” then we no longer have to wait the eight days, since we can assume that all is normal.

(OK, I will pause here to acknowledge the irony that we are worried that a calf or lamb etc. is viable and disease free so that we can immediately kill it for food. If we want to use the milk from the mother animal after she gives birth, we will need to use the offspring for food so that we can continue to milk the mother and use her milk for other purposes. If you did not really know this, it is because we have become so good at removing ourselves from the reality of farm life. If you are a vegan, I am sure that you know this and have become vegan exactly because you do not support this kind of animal husbandry. If you are a vegetarian, you may not know all the details as to why we kill young animals for food, but you are opposed to killing animals in all cases. As we explore the details of the kinds of animals, the rules of slaughter and the preparation of Kosher meat, I understand that some of my students may want to consider alternative meatless lifestyles. Judaism does permit this but I will deal with those issues at a future date.)

I also should add to the Hafetz Hayim, that even grown animals that are slaughtered for food, must have their lungs and liver inspected after Shechita (Kosher slaughter) to determine if they were already “dying” from some disease prior to the Shechita. This must be done by a qualified Rabbi so that abnormal spots and defects in these organs can be distinguished from normal spots and thus the “fitness” of the carcass is determined. There are certain defects, especially in the lungs of large animals, that do not cause it to be rejected as Kosher meat. However, there are some extra pious Jews who do not trust anyone with the inspection of the lungs, and who insist that the lungs of the animals they use for meat should be smooth, without any defect. This is obviously a higher standard and would cause Kosher meat to be more expensive. The Yiddish word for “smooth” as in “smooth lung” is “glatt”. A “glatt” Kosher animal has to pass a more rigid examination of its lungs than a “normal” Kosher animal. Most Kosher meat today is inspected with the glatt standard, and is more expensive than regular Kosher meat (which often is more expensive than regular non-Kosher meat.) Please note, that the “glatt” designation should apply only to large Kosher mammals. Chickens, fish and eggs cannot be “glatt” and if you are paying more for them, you are being ripped off. One can make a case that the entire “glatt” standard should be rejected and we should return to a simple Kosher standard, but the super pious and fundamentalists seem to have cornered the Kosher slaughter market and standard Kosher meat is becoming harder and harder to find in stores.

We will speak more about this super-Kashrut standard when we talk, in the next lesson, about Treif.

23-5770 Mitzvah N-85

Torat Emet
07/05/10
Negative Mitzvah 85– This is a negative commandment: do not encroach beyond a neighbor’s boundary, specifically in the Land of Israel.
Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark … in your inheritance which you shall inherit” (Deut. 19:14). which means taking some of his land. If a person entered his neighbor’s domain even by the breadth of a finger, even outside the Land of Israel – if it was by main force, he is thus a robber; if it was by stealth, he is a thief.
This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.
When we purchase a piece of property, no matter if we are financing the purchase or paying cash, a survey of the property is always required. It only makes sense that when we purchase property, we know the exact dimensions of what we are buying and the exact location of the property boundaries (where my property ends and someone else’s property begins).
In the days before modern surveying, landmark stones were put in place at the corner of private property and sales contracts were written concerning the land between these marker stones. Once these stones were in place, it was forbidden to move them. After all, as we see in the Torah and in the Mitzvah above, moving the stone was tantamount to stealing a neighbor’s land. If you were to purchase an adjoining field, you might, together with your neighbor, move the stones to the new property line, but if you do it by stealth, you are a common thief. If you take the land at gunpoint (or sword point) you have committed an act of armed robbery. I should also note that in Deuteronomy 27:17, there is a special public curse recited by all the people assembled between the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim directed at anyone who would move his neighbor’s landmark.
Clearly landmarks were easy to move and the temptation to move them and gain a bit more land for free was strong. The system of property markers required a bit of personal honesty among neighbors to prevent boundary disputes that even with our modern surveys, we find all too often still can sour the relationship between neighbors. Since these landmark stones could be moved and the other party none the wiser, this was considered a seriously nefarious criminal act and ancient society had only its most severe disdain to enforce what was basically an honor system.

22-5770 Mitzvah N-84

Torat Emet
22-5770 Mitzvah N-84
05/09/10

Negative Mitzvah 84 – This is a negative commandment: Do not have in your possession any short (or defective) measure.

Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of stone weight … two kinds of measures, great and small” (Deut. 25:13-14). even if he does no weighing or measuring with them.
This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.

This Mitzvah seems so simple that the Hafetz Hayim does not even bother to explain it. If we stop to think about it, there really is no good reason to have in our possession a set of weights and measures that are not true and accurate. It does not really matter if we plan to use them or not, or if we actually desire to use them or not. Just having them in our place of business, in our truck or car, in the place where we conduct our affairs, is still a sin and the consequences of having them could be terrible.

I think that there are two reasons for this prohibition. First if we own them we might be tempted to use them. After all, we have a customer that is always trying to squeeze a harder bargain with us and it would be easier to just give him the price per pound he wants and then use our bogus set of weights to get the money we deserve. Of course there is the small problem that if we start down that road, we will find that we begin to think all of our customers are stingy and cheap and we are entitled to the extra money from the false weights. And then, it is only a small step to think that if our customers are so stupid that they can’t figure out that the weights are false, then they deserve to be cheated. Therefore, it is important that the only weights we should have in our possession are weights and measures that are correct and true. The temptation of greed can only be overcome if we put away all possibility of corruption.

The other reason we should only have correct weights and measures is because just having false weights in our shop could become evidence of our criminal intent. Why would we have false weights if we were not planning to use them or had used them in the past? They testify by their presence that we are up to no good and therefore we are not to be trusted. Once word gets out that we have in our business a set of false weights we will be shunned by the public and our reputation will be ruined. Maybe we think that just owning them but never using them will not hurt us, but we see that, even if they have never been used, they will still ruin us and our livelihood.

21-5770 Mitzvah N-83

Torat Emet
21-5770 Mitzvah N-83
05/02/10

Negative Mitzvah 83 – This is a negative commandment: Do no wrong with any weight or measure

Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall do no wrong in mishpat, in size, in weight or in m’surah” (Lev. 19:35). and the Sages of blessed memory interpreted (Sifra on this verse) “mishpat” means the system of standards “in size, in weight” – that nothing should be lacking from the [standard] size and weight as the people of the country have agreed upon it; and so likewise not to mislead one’s fellow-human being in the measurement of land. “or in m’surah” – the Torah was particular even about a small quantity like a m’surah, which is a thirty-sixth part of a log.
If someone transgresses this, he disobeys a positive commandment (Just balances … and a just hin shall you have… Lev. 19:36) and he violates this prohibition. Even if he gives a heathen a short measure or weight, he violates this, and is duty bound to return [the amount lacking]. It is forbidden to mislead a heathen in an accounting: This is included in the scope of the verse, “For all … that do wrong are an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deut. 25:16)
The court has a duty to appoint officials to make the rounds among the stores and shops to correct the scales, weights, and measures, and to establish market prices. If someone’s measures, weights, or scales are not accurate, they are to take them away from him and are to penalize him with a fine. If someone charges above the going prices, they are to compel him to sell at the market prices. The punishment [by Heaven] over weights and measures is more severe than the punishment for immorality; he [the guilty person] is as one who denies the exodus from Egypt.
This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.

This prohibition, together with the positive Mitzvah stated above, forms the core of all business ethics in Judaism. It is just wrong to cheat someone in business. The saying that somehow business is something different from morality and fair play (after all “business is business”) clearly does not apply in Jewish Law. Judaism believes in capitalism, but it does not leave it unregulated. In this sense, our Mitzvah might as well be taken out of the current news. The unfair and unregulated dealings on Wall Street that led to the financial crisis that we are enduring, has its roots in those who would seek an unfair advantage over other investors. Our Mitzvah insists that all business dealings be fair for both the buyer and the seller. There are no exceptions to these rules.

We must also note that these weights and measures, were not, in the time of the Hafetz Hayim, “standardized”. There were different measures in different places. This is why one has to go by the standards of weight used in the location where the business is being conducted. These things may be determined by local custom but that does not give us the right to “adjust” them to suit our idea of what is fair. Whatever the local custom might be, pounds, kilograms, stones etc. we use what is the standard for the local jurisdiction. [For the record: a “log” is about 506 cubic centimeters of solid, dry volume]. Note also that we are very particular when it comes to the smallest measure. Here it is so easy to cheat, since the amounts are so small that who can tell if something is missing? We learn that in the small measures, we must all the more so be careful that we measure correctly.

There is a Midrash about the “sin” of Sodom and Gomorrah. When a person came to town to sell corn in the market place all the people of the city would come and take away one single grain of corn until at last the entire stall was empty. If the seller complained, how could he prosecute everyone since each citizen only took one grain? We have an obligation to pay for what we want and need, and we must always be prepared to purchase it at the going market rate.

The “market rate” is another standard that has to be regulated as well. While the price of goods was not “fixed” in ancient days, there was no one price that a seller had to charge; the seller was still forbidden to charge a price that was too far out of line from the average price in the market. It was expected that a seller would charge a “markup” in the price to cover his expenses and to provide a profit for the seller and his investors. The rule however, is that there is a limit as to how much of a markup one can take. Price gouging, where a higher price is charged depending on how bad the seller needs the item and how difficult it might be to procure the item, is prohibited. One must not profit excessively at the expense of a buyer who does not know the market rate, or just because local conditions might be driving the prices up. The Sages set up limits as to how much profit a seller might be able to claim. Any attempt to defraud a buyer because he is uneducated or desperate, or because one is using false weights and measures, requires that the seller return to the buyer the amount paid that was overpaid.

Contrary to popular belief, these laws also apply to transactions between Jews and non-Jews. There are some so-called pious Jews who think that it is forbidden to cheat a Jew but it is permitted to cheat a non-Jew. The Hafetz Hayim takes great pains to show that this is not true. We have the same obligations to just weights and measures for both Jews and non-Jews. If we wish to bring blessing to God’s name, we treat non-Jews fairly in business. There is a Midrash about Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach, who purchased a donkey with a halter and saddle from an Arab merchant. His students handed over his money and brought the donkey back to the Rabbi with joyful news. When they took off the halter, they found a precious stone hidden there. According to the law, the sale was final and the Rabbi was entitled to keep the gem. The Rabbi asked, “Did the Arab know he was selling the stone with the donkey?” Clearly the price was for a donkey, not for a precious stone. The Rabbi insisted his students return the gem to the Arab. The Arab, when he got the gem back was overjoyed. He said, “Blessed be Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach, Blessed be the God of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach” The Rabbi held himself to a higher standard and brought to himself and to God a blessing from the Arab.

To insure that all are measuring uses the same standards, the Rabbinic Courts are required to appoint honest agents to check the scales and weights used by venders in the market place, fining and punishing anyone caught with illegal weights or charging illegal prices. These laws of business are more important than the laws of morality. Moral laws are between just a handful of human beings. Business laws can affect an entire community. We need to be very careful about how we read Jewish Law in these matters and not disregard them because they are complicated, unfamiliar and, in our opinion, not needed. Our reputation and God’s reputation depend upon us only holding the highest standards in business. When we have honest weights and measures, we sleep better at night knowing that all of our actions, personal and business, are being conducted with justice, honesty and holiness.

20-5770 Mitzvah N-82

Torat Emet

20-5770 Mitzvah N-82
04/18/10

Negative Mitzvah 82 – This is a negative commandment: do not refrain from rescuing one’s fellow man from danger.

Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “neither shall you stand idly by the blood of your brother” (Lev. 19:16). For example, if someone sees another person drowning in the river, or in any other perils, he is duty-bound to save him in any way possible. Included in this is the duty to save one’s fellow-man from a monetary loss: for example, if he knows that a heathen or a bandit wishes to attack his fellow, and it lies in his ability to pacify him [the outlaw], he has a duty to pacify him.
This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.

Just so there is no question, the law requiring us to save a life refers to all lives, men, women, children, Jews, non-Jews, all races and all social classes. We have a primary responsibility to save any human life that is in our power to save. The reason we have to save non-Jews is not one that I am especially proud of; we save non-Jews for the sake of peace. So that there will not be enmity between Jews and non-Jews. I would have preferred that we do it out of a sense of shared humanity but the net result is the same, we must save all human beings from danger.

There is only one limitation on this Mitzvah. We are not required to endanger our own life to save the life of another. If we do not know how to swim, or even if we do but we are not trained for lifesaving in the water, we are forbidden to endanger our lives to save another person. We can choose an alternative path, we can get a long pole to reach the person in danger, we can go out in a boat to effect the rescue or we can call a trained lifeguard to save the person. We can’t just stand there, but we must do everything we can to help.

Other rules of Judaism are suspended so we can save a life. If the person is drowning on Shabbat, we violate Shabbat to save a life. If the person is famished and needs to eat, the rules of Kashrut are suspended if that is all there is to eat. If stopping to pray will endanger your life or the lives of those with you (from bandits, weather etc.) you are not to pray until it is safe to do so. We are to “live” by the Mitzvot, and not to die by them. Our first priority is to save our own life, then we have to save the lives of others. A Jew can not turn the other way and say “This is not my problem” or “I don’t want to get involved”.

It is also the rule that we must try to protect the property of others as well. If we can, we must warn them of danger and do what we can to prevent a situation where one could lose his or her property.

I should also say that this rule of saving life also applies to animals as well. The only difference is that we are not to violate any other Mitzvot on behalf of animals. We can save a horse from drowning but not on Shabbat. We can help to prevent the death of the animal but not perform work to save the animal’s life. The rule to prevent pain and suffering to animals is a separate Mitzvah.

I have to admit that I am a bit surprised to see this as a negative commandment rather than a positive one. We have a obligation to save a life, yet here, the obligation is not to stand idly by when a person is in danger. I suspect that it is here because of the way the verse from the Torah is worded. (“you shall not…” )

19-5770 Mitzvah N-81

Torat Emet
19-5770 Mitzvah N-81
March 28, 2010

Negative Mitzvah 81 – This is a negative commandment: do not harbor hatred in your heart toward your fellow-man.

Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “nor shall you bear any grudge” (Lev. 19:18). Bearing a grudge means that one harbors hate in his heart: for instance [in the example from last week’5s lesson] if he tells him (the man who once refused to lend an ax but now is asking to borrow something from the man whom he refused) “Here, I am lending it to you; I am not paying you back as you acted toward me, refusing to lend me something.” This is bearing a grudge where he nurses hate in his heart. Instead, he has to lend it to him wholeheartedly; there should be no ill will whatever in his heart, but he should rather erase the matter from his heart, and not retain it or remember it at all. These two qualities [revenge and hatred] are extremely bad. For all the matters and concerns of this world are vapid nonsense and triviality, and it is not worth taking revenge or bearing a grudge about them.

This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.

This week’s lesson and last week’s lesson (18-5770) are almost always taught together; partially because the example used to teach the lesson is the same, One day a man refuses to permit a neighbor to borrow his ax, the next day that same man goes to his neighbor and asks to borrow some other item. If we harbor revenge, we might say, “You wouldn’t lend to me, why should I lend to you?” If we harbor a grudge, we might say, “You wouldn’t lend to me but I am better than you, I will lend something to you even though you would not lend something to me.”

When I was a child, my parents told me that two wrongs don’t make it right. When we act with hatred or grudges, we prolong the healing between two human beings. When we realize, as the Hafetz Hayim suggests, that the world is filled with nonsense and triviality, we understand that such pettiness between neighbors undermines the great possibilities of human interaction. We could be creating harmony, justice and peace; instead we are allowing petty slights to isolate us from our neighbors.

I do understand that when a human being gets angry at another, the issue quickly seems to grow beyond the trivial. There is our pride that has been damaged, our feelings have been hurt, and our dreams may have been shattered. How could we ever imagine we will talk to that person again? How could we ever consider that person a friend? It is so very easy to harbor hatred in our hearts and seek revenge for the damage or hold the grudge inside as it corrodes all of our good will. The problem here is that, more often than not, the person who has offended us has no idea that we were offended. That person is going on his or her merry way and has no idea of the pain and anger in our heart. The hurt feelings and the corrosive effects of the hatred affect our heart and soul, and has no effect on the object of our hatred at all.