Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Everything Written"

(Picture courtesy of evgnvascularscience.org)

Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel commenting on Another Kind Of "Blood Libel":

There is a tale told of two fellows locked in a machlokes. Eventually, they agreed to go to the Rabbi for resolution. The first party carefully outlined his side of the argument. The rabbi listened intently and concluded, “My son, you are right.” The other party then outlined his appraisal of things, to which the Rabbi replied: “You are right, too.” The rabbi’s wife, who had overheard the conversations with both men, said to her husband, “Rabbi, you told them both that they were right. They can’t both be right!” To which the rabbi replied, “Hmmm… you are right too!”

Everything written in Chabakuk Elisha’s post is 100% correct and is emes. But, everything in the article upon which Chabakuk Elisa has come to comment is true as well.

The article that touched a nerve for Chabakuk Elishsa is from an online repository of summaries of shailos and teshuvos. Its points are basically two:

1. The article brings an interpretation from Rav Chaim Kanievsky explaining why there is a custom/chumra of some not to accept blood transfused from a non-Jew.


2. Rav Kanievsky was apparently cautious to note that this minhag should not be treated as a minhag shel shtus.

Chabakuk Elisha, if I am reading him correctly, believes that:

1. The source for the custom/chumra at issue is not really valid.


2. The real source is bias and bigotry against non-Jews.

The operative assumption of R’ Kanievsky’s interpretation is that there may be, note “may be,” inherent physiological differences between Jews and non-Jews that may, again “may,” have ramifications in the halachic sphere. This point is not without basis. However, these differences are more tied to the dietary metzius (reality) of non-Jews rather than to some inherent bio-structural difference.

Niddah 34b and Shabbos 86b bring a discussion regarding the zera of a Yisroel that is within the body of a Nochris and whether or not it is tuma if poleit within 3 days. One proposed answer hinges on the idea that the body temperature of Jews differs from that of non-Jews. While the original question is unresolved, the possibility that there may be physiological differences between Jews and non-Jews is left open. Note one of the main reasons proposed for possibly variant body temperatures is the difference in diet; non-Jews eat things that Jews do not eat.

These Gemoras combined with others in Shas (i.e. Avoda Zara 31b) strengthened the possibility of differing biologies enough for the Chasam Sofer to base a ruling upon it. In his Teshuvos Y.D. 175 the Chasam Sofer rules that medical statistics or findings based on a non-Jewish majority should not be considered definite for Jews because the possibility may exist that the physiologies are incomparable. However, in a case of life and death the Chasam Sofer says that we may rely on these findings and consider them definite because of the leniencies associated with pikuach nefesh and the principle of lo halchu be-pikuach nefesh achar ha-rov, “in matters of life and death, statistical majorities/minorities are not always relied upon as they would be in a normal situation.” Parenthetically, we should note that there are many contemporary poskim who doubt the applicability of the Chasam Sofer’s ruling in the modern medical world. [1]

Another place where this possible difference bears halachic import is in the case of a non-Jewish wet nurse. It is interesting that, again, the diet of the non-Jew seems to be a big part of the issue.

YD 81:7 the Mechaber paskens that, while a Non-Jewish wet nurse may nurse a Jewish baby, the practice should be discouraged because her (the wet nurse’s) diet is not kosher. In a similar vein, the Rama adds that a Jewish woman who must eat non-kosher food for health reasons should not nurse her child because the non-kosher food will harm the baby. The source for this idea that the diet of the non-Jew is the main issue, not the nature of the non-Jew herself, is the Rashba on Yevamos 114. The Rashba holds that a woman’s milk is not inherently treif; rather, its status depends upon her diet. The Vilna Gaon proposes a source for this Rashba from the well-known Medrash in Parshas Shemos. The Torah states that the Egyptians brought a wet nurse from the Jews to feed Moshe. Rashi explains that Moshe refused nursing from an Egyptian woman because he was going to be a navi and could not, therefore, eat non-kosher food. Based upon this proof, we see that the issue is not the non-Jew herself, rather the simple fact of circumstance that she ingests tarfus.

Either way, the possibility of Jewish biology differing from non-Jewish biology is not strong enough to bear weight as a psak, but it is enough to substantiate certain personal chumras, for example, not wanting a blood transfusion from a non-Jew.

Why is this not a minhag shel shtus?

While the technical and colloquial usages of “minhag shel shtus” have become very blurred, there is a workable definition. Basically, this is a custom which cannot be tied to a source in Shas Bavli, Yerushalmi, or any of the classic works of Kabbalo.

Under this definition, we find many accepted practices, particularly among the Ashkenazim, which could receive the label. In fact, some did. In the original edition of the Shulchan Aruch , Simon 605 [2] was bluntly entitled: Minhag Kapparos be-Erev Yom Kippur Minhag Shel Shtus Hu, “The Custom of Kapporos on the Eve of the Day of Atonement is a Foolish Custom.” [3]

The title was changed to its modern form sometime in the 1570’s when the Ashkenazi editions incorporating the Rama were first printed.

The reason for the Mechaber’s treatment was that the minhag of kapparos has no Talmudic source. [4] Rather, its earliest mention is a Rashi to Shabbos 81b.

Nevertheless, the custom has taken root due to the approvals of the Rosh [5], Tur [6] , and Mordechai. [7] Amongst Sephardim, the custom has gained popularity because the Ari was known to have embraced it. [8]

Another candidate is kitniyos. Rabbeinu Yerucham flatly called it a minhag shel shtus. [9] No less a sage than Rav Yaakov Emden concurred that the minhag was problematic and declared it a mitzvah to annul the whole thing. [10] We hold onto it today due to its wide acceptance and the Maharil’s passionate defense of the custom. [11]

In contrast, we have some customs which may appear foolish but are not. For example, see Orach Chayim 442:6 that records the minhag of some persons to scrape down walls and chairs that may have come in contact with chometz. The Mishneh Berurah warns that we should not think this is a minhag shel shtus. Why? Because it has a basis it can be tied to in the Yerushalmi.

In conclusion, those who want to be machmir about not receiving a blood transfusion from a non-Jew have what to rely upon. However, the sources may only be enough to warrant a personal custom/chumra and not a hanhaga for an entire community. Also, Rav Kanievsky’s defense of this custom as “not a minhag shel shtus” is warranted; we see that the possibility of differing biological traits does exist. Additionally, we know that it is not preferable for an infant to nurse from a non-Jew due to the fact that she eats tarfus. Perhaps this reasoning carries to blood transfusions as well? Again – not enough for a psak, but enough for someone to be machmir if they want to be.

I just don’t see anything in the original article that warrants the “annoyance, anger, and disgust” expressed by Chabakuk Elisha. While it is true that non-Jews and Jews are different (spiritually and, according to some, perhaps even physically), it is also true that we have a responsibility to uphold and exercise the tenets of basic human dignity. I just don’t see how the Revach article poses any contradiction to either of these two facts.

Anyone who wishes to comment on this post or Chabakuk Elisha’s post, please read (or re-read) the original article found here.


[1] Heard from Rav Ovadia Yosef, shlita. Rav Yosef also writes about this topic in his teshuvos, but I cannot lay my hands on the source at the moment.

[2] For an example, see edition published Venice, 1565.

[3] According to Sheilos u-Teshuvos Shemesh Tzedaka O. C. 23 the simon titles in early editions may not have been written by the Mechaber or, alternatively, the original titles were liberally edited. Nevertheless, R’ Karo still opposes kapparos strongly in his Beis Yosef.

[4] The Beis Yosef goes further bringing the Rashba who views this practice as darkei ha-emori.

[5] Yoma 8:23

[6] O.C. 605

[7] Introductory notes to Yoma.

[8] Magen Avraham 605:1. See Kaf ha-Chayim 605:8, Shu”t Yechave Da’as II:71, and Ben Ish Chai: Vayeilech 2 for more information about the Sephardic adoption of this custom.

[9] Toldos Adam ve-Chava IV:3.

[10] Mor u-Ketzia 453

[11] Maharil 187.


At November 27, 2007 at 10:36:00 AM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Thank you R' Bloomenstiel! I would just like to clarify a couple things:

A number of people have taken issue with my tone in the posting. I am glad to hear that, because I want to point out that my entire posting was a reaction to the tone of the post over at Revach.

My post was not about R' Kanievsky or the Ponevezher Rov Z"L. I tried not to make the post about them, and I did so because I sincerely respect them. R' Kanievsky was merely pointing out that there may be a precedent for the Ponevezher Rov's request, and the Ponevezher Rov gave no reason. I am confident that nether of them meant anything racist, my concern and reaction is because the Revach post leaves the reader without any perspective. To me, it was upsetting in the way that a quote out of context is upsetting – because that's precisely what it is: out of context. My post was specifically for that reason: to provide context.

Now, as a Chossid, I can relate to sensitivity about kedusha inyanim. And, since our diet surely affects our blood, one might want to avoid blood from a non-Kosher diet. Or one could say that since the yetzer hora, we are told, resides in the blood, one might say that he'd rather avoid non-Jewish blood that may be connected with a non-Jewish yezer hora. And if that's someone's person feeling, that's his business. But, of course, we are talking about pikuach nefesh, and it seems that none of these inyanim should even be relevant (just as we would be mechalel Shabbos, or eat non-kosher food, for pikuach nefesh if there was no choice).

But when someone clicks on that site and reads the tshuva, as I did, what do you think the underlying message communicated is? Is it positive? Is it accurate? Does it promote the true universalistic message of Torah?

"Drachea darche noam V'CHOL nesivosea shalom (Its ways are ways of pleasantness And ALL its paths are peace)."

At November 27, 2007 at 11:56:00 AM EST, Anonymous avkesh said...

I am with Chabakuk Elisha. This is not truly a minhag since it is not practiced by a definable group of people or in a specific location. Rather it is a personal chumra and is subject to dinim of yuhra, poresh min hatsibbur and others. As such, it should be discouraged for reasons of eivah, chillul hashem and out of concern that some individuals may end up being endangered by it. It does not require justification since it is not a minhag. In addition, the source from Chasam Sofer is, as you mentioned, contested. There is also the issue of nishtane hateva in the poskim and the fact that R. Kanievsky's heorah was probably just that, a heorah, not lemaaase. It was poor judgment for the original source to publicize it.

I would also point out that the actual quote from the gemarra is about degradation of shikhvas zera. It is hard to see how it can be applied to the issue at hand, except in a most general sense of showing differences in biology.

Finally, the question goes to: "Do you really think there is difference in biology?' Do you? If you do, kol hakavod. If you dont..

At November 27, 2007 at 12:23:00 PM EST, Anonymous Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen said...

Thank you, Chabakuk Elisha, for your latest comments. This clarification was needed, and it is very much appreciated. I hope this points to a positive direction that we all can go in: respectful dialogue about Torah ideas.

And I also appreciate your emphasis on the Torah's universal vision. Your thoughtful, idealistic, and heartfelt comments regarding this vision can inspire all of us.

At November 27, 2007 at 12:37:00 PM EST, Anonymous Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel said...

Avkesh -

I agree with you. Everything that you wrote, I wrote. Go back and read the post again.

Also, I am not coming to say whether the Ponezhver Rav's practice is right or wrong. Neither is Rav Kanievsky. The only question is: It is an unjustified practice?

Regarding differences in Biology, I don't know if this is scientifically true or not and nor does it really matter to me. My interest is in whether or not an individual has a basis upon which to practice such an unusual stringincy. It appears that someone does have such a basis (that is what Rav Kanievsky said), yet it is a weak one. Hence, the choice becomes a personal one, a daas yochid.

There is not space to get into it here, but it is not so easy to say that porush min ha-tzibbur and eiva are severe factors in this sort of a personal practice.

On another note - R' Kanievsky's father was know hold very strongly that the Chasam Sofer's ruling does apply nowadays. This is perhaps another factor in Rav Kanievsky's statement.

At November 27, 2007 at 2:29:00 PM EST, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

1. Given all the geirei tzedek our nation has absorbed over millennia in galus, how tenable is the idea that we're "physiologically or biologically different" (whatever that could mean) today---even if we might conceivably have been different in that way at some earlier stage?

2. Regarding diet: From the standpoint of the chumra in question, would it matter if the non-Jew was a strict vegetarian?

3. Regarding the person's type of yetzer hara: Where do we see a claim that this in itself affects the properties of blood?

At November 27, 2007 at 2:51:00 PM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

I have the same questions and more...

At November 27, 2007 at 3:31:00 PM EST, Anonymous Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel said...

Bob Miller -

Shalom Aleykhem!

Al regel achas - - -

#1 - I don't think that the gemora is speaking about a genetic difference. The gemora seems to accept that the two physiologies are structurally the same, yet the Jewish body operates differently than the no-Jewish due to differences in diet, practice, lifestyle, etc. Again, this is only a talmudic potential possibility rather than a factual conclusion. Thus, it becomes a "factor" in halachic discourse ( a "snif") rather than a conclusion. Another possibility is that the Jewish and non-Jewish body's differ due to some underlying metaphysic. However, off the top of my head, I can't think of a source for this. The gemora does state that there are inherent differences in traits between the Jew and non-Jew, but this doesn't cross into the realm of biology.

#2 - As long as the vegetarian checks the vegetables to ensure that they are free from bugs, there shouldn't be an issue. The problem seems to be the non-Jewish consumption of sheratzim (tamei creatures) moreso than other types of tarfus.

#3 - the connection between the Yetzer ho-ra and blood shows up often in the kabbalistic and chassidic writings, in particular with reference to the blood of the Left chamber of the heart, the seat of the yetzer hora (as chazal tell us). See Likutey Mohrana I:6 (first few paragraphs)- Rabbenu za"l is doresh there on the idea of lessening blood/slaughtering the yetzer hora/shtika/teshuva.

At November 27, 2007 at 6:11:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

Regarding #3 does it literally mean physical blood, or rather metaphysical, what the blood symbolizes? Do you really assume, that tzaddik literally removed all physical blood from the left part of the heart?

At November 27, 2007 at 9:16:00 PM EST, Blogger Yaacov David Shulman said...

Shalom aleichem, R. Avraham!
Excellent ha'aros!
Yaacov Dovid

At November 28, 2007 at 11:31:00 AM EST, Anonymous Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel said...

Yaacov Dovid!!!

Shalom my friend!

How are you settling-in in E"Y?

I am so thrilled to hear from you!

At November 28, 2007 at 1:46:00 PM EST, Anonymous Dovid Sears said...

Reb Avraham:

Thanks for your excellent clarification of these issues.

Just one point to tie onto the caboose of the train: there are countless minhagim not found in Chazal / Zohar which our gedolim nevertheless followed. This is CE's point -- that it is almost impossible to apply the concept of minhag shel shtus practically.

For example, one Shabbos guest asked me if there is a written makor for the minhag to remove a tiny sliver of challah from the end of the loaf before partaking. The reason I once heard is because klippah has its hold on the ends of things; but I have not seen this minhag brought down in a sefer. (In fact, until recent years relatively few compilations of minhagim existed.)

Yet Reb Gedaliah Kenig, my teacher Reb Elazar Kenig's father, kept this minhag. So does Reb Elazar. For that matter, so does Rav Chaim Sheinberger, I am told. So do many good Jews. So it is not a minhag shel shtus, despite its lack of a written makor.

Best wishes to you and your family and the entire Baltimore chevra!

At November 28, 2007 at 1:52:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Rabbi Sears: It is funny you mention that particular minhag since I too once asked a older Lubavitcher chassid about it. He told me that he didn't know the exact reason but did it because he knew that his grandfather did it.

Since you mentioned that Rav Kenig follows this minhag, I will have to ask the Sudilkover Rebbe about it as well!

At November 28, 2007 at 2:13:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

but I have not seen this minhag brought down in a sefer.

Taamey haMinhogim brings it, but is somewhat pressed in provide the source.

At November 28, 2007 at 2:27:00 PM EST, Anonymous Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel said...

R' Dovid -

Good to hear from you!

You are correct - There are some minhagim today that we practice which lack a written source that ar not minhag shel shtus. I omitted the factor of historical significance in the post: There are many minhagim which we practice due to historical reasons (i.e. they were needed at some point yet may not be needed nowaday) which lack a specific written sources. This is one of the arguments in favor of kitniyos. Another example is the minhag that many have not to sing the Shabbas zemer "Mah Yofis" (long story - but the yiddish word "mahyufusnik" - meaning a servile Jew, or an "Uncle Tom" comes from the title of the song).

Re: challa - A non-Kabbalistic historical source for the minhag may come from Horayos 13b re: not-fully-baked bread is mazik limud. There is a perush (I have to go look for the exact source) which explains that the ends of a shabbos challo, during baking, would usually touch and stick to the challos next to it. These ends, not being 100% baked, should be cut off b'shas achila. I asked one of my rabbonim about this and was told that nowadays it is not a concern because it is uncommon to find challos baked like so. He mentioned that many are careful to still cut a small sliver from the end anyways and this is a common custom. This is also a reason why the first slice eaten is usually a middle slice and not an end slice.

This consideration is probably enough to deflect any accusation of mihnag shel shtus for the challa cutters out there (of which I am also a sliver cutter!)

At November 28, 2007 at 2:59:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At November 28, 2007 at 3:01:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

Re: The minhag of cutting the end of the challah and not eating it.

If I remember correctly the sefer Minhag Yisroel Torah brings down a reason for this. Also, I heard that the Dayan Weiss ZY”A in Minchas Yitzchok mentions the minhag and says he doesn't know the reason but nevertheless keeps the minhag.

At November 29, 2007 at 12:40:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

A Talmid: I just spoke to the Sudilkover Rebbe on the phone and he mentioned the Minchas Yitzchok that you quoted and also the fact that the Divrei Chaim mentioned the rationale cited by Rabbi Bloomenstiel above.

The Sudilkover Rebbe further said that he heard that cutting off a sliver from the end - the "eck" - was a segula to prevent a person from forgetting things.

He said that although he did not know 100% whether this minhag was followed in Sudilkov, it was a fairly widespread minhag in the Chassidic world and that he does, in fact, follow it as well.

Do you know whether it is followed in the Litvish world as well?

At November 29, 2007 at 1:04:00 PM EST, Anonymous Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel said...


Yes! Divrei Chaim - yasher koach. That was the one I couldn't remember!


At November 29, 2007 at 1:09:00 PM EST, Anonymous Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel said...

I don't know what the Litvishe world does. Excluding your's truly, the rest of my family are dyed-in-the-wool Yekeys (German Jews) through-and-through. I have never seen them cut the "eck." They do set aside the end piece, though, and leave it on the table until the end of the meal.

At November 29, 2007 at 1:10:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...


Have you ever heard of the minhag not to use a challah knife that is serrated but is smooth/sharp?

The Sudilkover Rebbe told me that this was one Shabbos minhag from Sudilkov that he did remember.

At November 29, 2007 at 1:20:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

One last Sudilkov minhag he mentioned was to use one braided challah and one non-braided challah with some-sort of mark on the top of it. He is going to take a picture in the future and send it to me to show how it is done.

At November 29, 2007 at 2:51:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...


Re: the challah
I will try to find out if there is a livish minhag to do this.

I had heard another reason for this is so there is a piece left over to remain on the table in case a poor person comes. Also, for birchas hamazon one is supposed to have bread on the table either so if a poor person for him or else because you need at least a little something for "brocha" to come from it like Elisha with the oil.

At November 30, 2007 at 12:39:00 AM EST, Anonymous Yirmeyahu said...

"Have you ever heard of the minhag not to use a challah knife that is serrated but is smooth/sharp?
The Sudilkover Rebbe told me that this was one Shabbos minhag from Sudilkov that he did remember."

There is more to it but see Rama O.C. 250:1

At December 3, 2007 at 12:01:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The inyan that eating the ends of the challah is kasha l'shich'cha is brought in seforim. That's why some people are makpid to use round challahs, to avoid having to deal with cutting off the ends.

However, I heard from a Slonimer einikel that if a lady eats the ends of the challah, it's a segulah to have a ben zochor. I have not seen any written mokor for this, however.


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