by Rav Ya’akov Klass, RAA/Igud Presidium Chairman

Part I

Question: We are obviously in a very unique situation in this present Covid19 pandemic, which has caused a halt to almost all public gatherings; hence much of Jewish congregational ritual has come to a halt. Is there a way to deal with all that was missed?

M. Goldman
Via Email

Answer: Truly, the Corona virus, which has been officially designated by the U.N. as a world pandemic, a serious threat to life and limb. Due to this our President on the federal level, government officials on both state and local levels as well as most other world authorities, have all put in place bans of all sorts and ranges on public gatherings. This has in effect curtailed all public congregational activities. By way of assent the leading Halachic authorities have ruled that there be no minyanim due to the severity of the situation.

Besides our lives being upended, as relates to Jewish ritual everything has been affected if not seemingly nullified. Weddings that had been scheduled, were for the most part not cancelled, but only that couples are now marrying with Spartan guest lists of perhaps ten to fifteen men participating – all spaced apart, due to the high degree of contagion. A similar story describes a current Brit, Bar Mitzvah and Pidyon Haben in this present climate.

Yet all of these are life events that can occur, albeit in much abbreviated form. However, the thrice-daily minyan of Tefillah B’tzibbur – congregational prayer has all been missed. The advantage that Tefillah B’Tzibbur possesses cannot be recompensed. However this being due to matters that are beyond our control, we must rely on the rule anus Rachmona patrei – where the ability to perform any mitzvah is prevented due to matters beyond our control Heaven absolves us from their performance. But what if we can make good on any of these missed opportunities to serve Hashem, would we and could we?

Let us look at some of the matters that have been rendered beyond our control. 

This year we are faced with pre Passover preparations, among them cutting our hair. The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 531:1, based on the Gemara – Moed Katan 14a) states: It is a Mitzvah to cut one’s hair on the eve of the Yom Tov. This is an extrapolation in the Gemara (Moed Katan ad loc) where a reason is given to preclude one cutting his hair on Chol Hamo’ed as a penalty as he should have done so before the Festival, in order that he not enter the Festival in an unkempt state. Thus taking a haircut before Yom Tov is equal to all the other hachanot – preparations that one must do in order to honor the Yom Tov.  

Now this year as we approached Passover for most it was impossible to go for haircuts. 

For some it was a question of their self-quarantine and even those lesser at risk who could go to a barber, there was the matter of social distancing. Thus for most, with the exception of those who had someone in the nuclear household gifted enough to give a haircut, a haircut was an impossibility. Now that we are post Passover and into Sefirah, when we do not take haircuts, what to do?        

The Mechaber (infra 531:3) states: ‘One may not cut ones hair on Chol Hamo’ed – the intermediary days, even if he was anus – he was precluded due to matters beyond his control, similarly if he was ill and recovered during the Festival. Mishna Berurah (sk 5) explains that one seeing will be unaware that he was constrained due to matters beyond his control and will assume that one is allowed to take haircuts on Chol Hamo’ed.

The Mechaber (infra 531:4, citing Moed Katan 13b, the Mishnah) continues: ‘And these may cut their hair on Chol Hamo’ed; One who was released from captivity and had no time to cut his hair before the Yom Tov, and One who was released from prison and even if he was imprisoned by Jewish authorities who would have allowed him to cut his hair, and One who was excommunicated and they released him from his ban on the Yom Tov, and One who vowed not to cut his hair who was released from his vow on Yom Tov, and one who came from overseas on Chol Hamo’ed or who came on the eve of Yom Tov and there was no time left on the day to cut his hair, [as to the latter] that was only if his trip abroad from which he is returning was not for pleasure. 

Insofar one who was set free from captivity or prison we might see an allusion from the following verse (Genesis 41:14) “Vayishlach Paroh, Vayikra et Yosef, va’yeritzuhu min ha’bor va’yegalach va’yechalef simlotav va’ yavo el Paroh – Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and with haste the brought him up from the dungeon, and he shaved and changed his clothing and he came to Pharaoh. We see from Joseph that when he is about to see the King, one who is but a mere mortal, the preparations he makes – a haircut and a clean change of clothes. How much more so when we are to spend our Yom Tov with the King of Kings, HaKadosh Boruch Hu.   

Mishnah Berurah (531:sk14) explains the last case, that there is a difference between one who traveled abroad for his livelihood as opposed to one who travels for pleasure. We offer more leniencies to the former but not the latter.

Now it is obvious as for us, we are all in a situation that is almost universal. Firstly, we are not availing ourselves of the Sages exemption to cut our hair on Chol Hamo’ed, at this point; rather we are dealing with cutting one’s hair during Sefirah. The custom not to cut one’s hair during Sefirah [time period depending upon the various communal customs] itself is a Minhag that is not found in the Talmud. Now being that our situation is almost universal, there are none who will look upon one who finally got to take a haircut as proof that he may take a haircut during a normal impermissible time, be it Chol Hamo’ed or Sefirah [depending upon the various minhagim].

On the other hand we might view the situation of cutting the hair during Sefirah as requiring more stringency. For our reason to allow those who were truly ones – prevented by circumstances beyond their control is because there is need that they not appear before Hashem on Yom Tov ‘menuvalim’ – in a state of disgrace. As to Sefirah it is a period that firstly, is not Yom Tov and secondly, our sages had proscribed cutting the hair. Thus, perhaps, there would be no leniency. Yet as we see further there is room for leniency.  

Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, the Rishon LeZion, Chief Rabbi of Israel (Yalkut Yosef , Hilchot Sefirat Ha’Omer no. 36, p.430) differentiates between cutting one’s hair and shaving for which there are various leniencies. He refers to one who finds it absolutely difficult not to cut his hair. He notes that among Sefaradim there is a tendency to be more lenient., and that is a normal year. Thus we see that under normal circumstances cutting the hair during Sefirah would be prohibited [in the various time periods], it would seem that this year would be the exception to that rule. But a note of caution, surely, one would not be allowed to take any further haircut until the time period of his Sefirah custom has elapsed.


Part II

Our Sages instituted that each and every Yom Tov, we include in our Tefillah mention of the other two Yomim Tovim – a reference to our Holy Temple – may it be rebuilt speedily in our days – and to the Korbanot that were sacrificed – and hopefully will be sacrificed there again. Thus on each Yom Tov the populace were oleh regel – they would make their thrice-yearly pilgrimage up to Jerusalem to witness and participate in the glory of the Holy Temple. 

Thus as we celebrate Pesach, we look longingly forward to Shavuot and further yet to Sukkot, which concludes with Shemini Atzeret – Simchat Torah [in Eretz Yisrael being one and the same day]. Simchat Torah, as ordained by our Sages, marks the culmination of the years Torah reading cycle. It is marked by great festivity and is a truly joyous occasion. It is a time when every male is called to the Torah, where he is given an Aliyah. Unusual is that even young children not yet Bar Mitzvah, even as young as five or six years are also included in the Aliyot

This celebration assumes a given that Klal Yisrael have continuously read the Torah, the Sidrot – weekly portions as set in place by our Sages. But, what if such was not the case?

There is a Machloket – dispute whether Keriat ha’Torah – the reading of the Torah is Chovat Gavra – an individual requirement, or Chovat Hatzibbur – a congregational requirement. The Halacha accords that it is Chovat Hatzibbur – a congregational requirement.

This presents us with a problem of great significance, in light of our current – previous – state of quarantine, whereby we have missed numerous weekly readings of the Torah. How will we truly celebrate a completion that has not occurred?

Let us turn to the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 135:1) for some insight: “On Monday and Thursday [both at Shacharit] and the Sabbath at Mincha three are called to the Torah no less nor no more and there is no reading of the Haftara. (infra 135:2) “The place where they have concluded reading on the Sabbath at Shacharit it is from there that is read on the Sabbath at Mincha, and then Monday and Thursday [at Shacharit] and the following Shabbat.”

We note the only difference being that on the Sabbath we call seven aliyot to Torah as we read the entire Sidra – the Parashat Ha’shavuah, whereas on Monday and Thursday we normally only read to Sheni – the second Aliyah  on Shabbat, a minimal reading of nine pesukim – verses. The reason we read from the Torah is alluded to in the Pasuk in Parashat Beshalach (Exodus 15:22) “Vayasa Moshe et Yisrael mi’Yam Suf va’yeitzu el Midbar Shor vayel’chu sheloshet yomim ba’midbar v’lo motz’u mayyim – Moses led Israel in their journey from the Sea of Reeds and they went out to the Wilderness of Shur; they went for three days in the Wilderness, but they found no water.”

The Talmud (Bava Kama 82a) cites this verse as the reason for enacting [originally by Moses and later again by Ezra] to read from the Torah thrice each week. The Gemara explains that the thirst for water is an allusion to the thirst for Torah as the verse (Isaiah 55:1) states: “Hoy kol tzomei l’chu la’mayyim …– Ho, everyone who is thirsty, go to the water…” This verse expressing water as being an allusion to Torah, just as one cannot exist for three days without water, so Israel cannot exist three days without Torah.

The Rema (ad loc 135:2) notes: “If the public reading of the Parasha of one Sabbath was nullified  [or disrupted] then on the following Sabbath they are to read the missed parasha with that week’s parasha. 

Now what if multiple Parashiyot were missed? Ba’er Heitev (ad loc sk4) notes that this refers even if there was a disturbance – an argument in the Synagogue, that cut short their reading of the Sidra, there too they would read the following week along with that week’s Sidra. However, he notes, if the previous week’s Sidra was Mechubarin – a joined double reading then such would not be the case, because we have never found that we read three parashiyot.

Mishna Berura (ad loc sk6,7) cites those who say that multiple missed parashiyot are not to be read, other than the parasha immediately before their resumption of the weekly Torah reading, Others opine that all the missed Parashiyot must be read, this is the view of Elyah Rabbah. He notes that Gr’a opines like the first view. 

The implications for us, and what I believe to be a solution is as follows. The reasoning of the Gr’a and especially in our situation is the matter of Tircha D’tzibura – placing an excessive burden on the congregation, who would be required to remain in the Synagogue in inordinate amount of time on the Sabbath and arriving at home for the Sabbath meal at a late hour. This seems to be a very reasonable view. 

A solution that I perceive and, im Yirtzah Hashem – please G-d, will institute in my own Synagogue will be to read those missing Parashiyot on one or two of the longer Sabbath afternoons before Mincha. In this fashion, each and every one will be able to truly arrive at Simchat Torah with a heart full of joy as having personally participated in the completion of the year’s Torah reading.


Part III

A unique problem that has been created by this pandemic and the required social distancing relates to the laws and etiquette relating to the dead [of which, unfortunately there have many] and their bereaved survivors, the mourners. 

Firstly, a matter of Jewish practice is to prepare the remains for immediate burial. This for those who truly care has been done for the most part tirelessly by the various Chevra Kadisha – burial societies with the cooperation of funeral directors all to their great credit. It has not been an easy task as many had no prearranged plans – cemetery plots. Yet through the combined effort of many kind people this challenge has been and continues to be met.

We must not as well forget the Herculean effort of those engaged in transporting remains to Eretz Yisrael, where such was desired and pre-arranged.` 

Funerals have been arranged and according to the psak – the ruling of major Halachic authorities – limits have been placed on those who may be physically present at the cemetery for the levaya – funeral service, to not much more than a minyan including the immediate mourners – and all spaced apart. Using modern technology additional people are able to access the funeral via Zoom and other similar platforms. Hespedim – Eulogies for the most part have been kept to a minimum, even the most basic eulogies, which skirt the Chodesh Nissan [during Nissan] restrictions, which in this current health crisis is probably most expedient.     

The aftermath of every Jewish burial is the mourning period, in the following increments (as cited in the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah); Shiva – the first seven days; Shloshim – the first thirty days; and Yud Beit Chodesh – twelve months. The former two represent the mourning period for all the Shiva K’rovim – the seven relatives – Mother, Father, Brother, Sister, Son, Daughter and Spouse. The latter, Yud Beit Chodesh, is the additional mourning period that only applies for the loss of one’s parents.

This year Nichum Aveilim – the mitzvah to comfort and console  the mourner, seems to have been upended somewhat, just as funerals have been restricted due to the imperative to social distance, so has Nichum Aveilim been similarly affected. The Mitzvah itself is the subject of a dispute between Rabbenu Yonah and the Rambam; the former ruling it to be a Biblical commandment and the latter opining it to be Rabbinical.

Probably, the most difficult part of the mourning process is the Halachic enforced confinement to one’s home for the duration of the Shiva period. The arrival of people who come to console the mourner, a form of Gemilath Chesed – performing acts of kindness, is an act that is not lost on the mourner. The problem this year is that since one cannot visit the mourner, how does one console him/her. I remember years ago when my grandmother, Mrs. Ethel Klass a”h, was niftar that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein Zt”l , who was at the time advanced in years, picked up the telephone and called the family to be Menachem the Aveilim. If that suited such a great gaon at that time we see the model for our own situation. And, indeed, at the present time this seems to be the only means of fulfilling this most important mitzvah. If one cannot reach his intended mourner by telephone call, I assume a computer email or cellular messaging will have to do. The message should include the special text ordained by our sages “Hamakom yinachem etchem b’she’or aveilei tziyyon v’yerushalayim – May Hashem console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” 

In fact I too discovered the efficacy of leaving a telephone message. I had called the Mirrer Rosh HaYeshiva, Horav Osher Kalmanowitz Shlit’a, to be Menachem him on the loss of his dear mother, the Rebbetzin Malka Kalmanowitz A’h, an isha tzenuah, a real Tzadeket. A few days later I received a call back thanking me for my kind words of consolation.

Indeed, may all Klall Yisrael be consoled of the many unfortunate losses we have incurred due to this horrific pandemic. Hashem yerachem Aleinu – May Hashem show His mercy upon us.

Clarification: I wish to thank two of our readers who very keenly corrected what appeared to be an obvious error in last week’s column. They noted that it was impossible for Eliyahu Rabbah to cite Gr’a as he died eight years before Gr’a was born, I apologize, what I meant to convey was that Mishnah Berurah (O.C. 135:sk6,7) was citing both opinions, that of Eliyahu Rabbah that we read multiple missed parashiyot and the view of Gr’a that we don’t.


Part IV

A key component of the mourning process is the Kaddish – the prayer of sanctification that serves both the bereaved of his loss as well as the departed soul. The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 376:4) citing multiple sources Midrashic and otherwise notes the following: “It is the custom to recite the Kaddish for one’s father [and mother] for twelve months and it is also customary to recite the Haftara [every Sabbath] and to lead the Ma’ariv service at the conclusion of the Sabbath, as that is the time when the souls return to purgatory, but when the son prays and publicly sanctifies the Holy Name he redeems his parent from purgatory. And one recites Kaddish for his mother even though his father is yet alive, and the father has no recourse to restrain the son’s doing so.  He then concludes: “On the [anniversary of the] day when one’s father or mother died [i.e., the Yahrzeit – every year when the exact date occurs], that one is to fast. From Taz and Beit Lechem Yehudah (op cit) we see as well that the mourner on the day of the Yahrzeit recites the Kaddish Yatom [the Mourner’s Kaddish].

We will now cite sources for the Kaddish, which is a prayer of such significance that it lead our sages to mandate its recital, by the son. during the first year period following the death of his departed and thenceforth as an annual recurring obligation to be recited on the anniversary date of his parent’s death – the Yahrzeit.

Gesher HaChayyim (Vol 1: chap. 30) finds the earliest source for the Mourner’s Kaddish to be recited in the synagogue in Mesechet Soferim (19:11) [one of the Minor Tractates]: “[On the Sabbath] after the completion of the Mussaf prayer, the chazzan goes behind the doors of the synagogue [or in front of the synagogue] to seek out the mourners and all the relatives. He recites the blessing [of Nichum Aveilim] followed by Kaddish.” [And it is clearly indicated that this Kaddish is not the same as the expanded version recited after the study of Talmud and rabbinic discourse.] Rabbi Yosef Caro in his expanded Bet Yosef commentary (to Tur, Yoreh De’ah 376) similarly notes that one who has lost a parent recites this Kaddish – the Kaddish Yatom..

We also find in Parashat Va’yechi (Genesis 49:1-2) the following: “Vayikra Yaakov el banav vayomer he’asfu ve’agida lochem eit asher yikra etchem be’acharit hayamim – And Jacob called to his sons and said: ‘Gather yourselves, that I may tell you that which shall befall you at the end of days.  Hikovtzu vesham’u Bnei Yaakov vesham’u el Yisrael avichem – Gather yourselves and hear, sons of Jacob and hear [the words of] Israel your father.” 

In explaining this passage the Targum Yerushalmi commentary (ad. loc.) relates the conversation between father and sons, from which we excerpt, that Jacob had wished not only to bless his sons, as he approached his transition from this world to the next, but to reveal to them that which will transpire to them at the end of days [basically to divulge the appointed time that will herald the arrival of the final redemption via the Melech Ha’Moshiach], but it was suddenly hidden from him. To seek to understand why he began: ‘My grandfather [had Isaac who was fit but] he [also] had Ishmael and the sons of Keturah, who were unfit, Similarly my father had my brother, Esau, who was unfit and he had me. Perhaps from amongst you there is one who is unfit? To reassure him of their fealty to Hashem, they immediately responded “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad – Hear O’ Israel, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One.” To which he [Jacob] responded; “Boruch Sheim k’vod malchuto l’olam va’ed – May Hs great Name be blessed forever and ever.” 

The words of Jacob’s response when slightly transposed also form in Hebrew “Yehi Shmo hagadol m’vorach l’olam va’ed” and in Aramaic, “Yehei Shmei Rabbah m’vorach l’olam u’l’olmei almaya.” This Aramaic rendition of Jacob’s response forms the core of the Kaddish recital, the sanctification of Hashem’s Name. Additionally the composer[s] of this great prayer turned to the prophet Yechezkel for the opening text of the Kaddish, who states (Ezekiel 38:23): “V’hitgadalti v’hitkadashti… – I will be exalted and I will be sanctified…” 

As relates to Kaddish, which now translate as “sanctification,” its very essence is just that, as the Gemara (Berachos 3a) relates, though the Gemara discusses specifically  ‘Yehei Shmei rabbah m’vorach that discussion actually relates to the entire Kaddish recital. “R. Yosi said … that when Jews gather in their synagogues and study halls and respond [to the Kaddish recital] ‘Amen Yehei Shmei hagadol m’vorach … [see Tosafot s.v. ‘Ve’onin’ who cite our present text, ‘Yehei Shmei rabbah m’vorach … – May His exalted Name be blessed in this world and ever after’], G-d nods his head and exclaims, “Praised [fortunate] is the King who is praised in his house. (Rashi s.v. “Ashrei HaMelech…” explains that “His house” alludes to His Temple – may it be rebuilt speedily in our days – and He laments their exile.)

Insofar it being recited in Aramaic as opposed to Hebrew, as most other prayers, Tosafot (Berachos 3a; op.cit.) offer two explanations. The first being that it is a recital reserved solely for us to deliver to Hashem. It was specifically ordained for recital in Aramaic, in order that the ministering angels who do not know that language will not comprehend what is being said. Yet, Tosafot are not satisfied with that answer and offer the alternative view that at the time of its enactment the masses spoke [only] in Aramaic and were not conversant in Hebrew.

Now Rema (ad loc) turns to the time period that a mourner is required to recite the Kaddish. “It is the custom that one is to recite Kaddish or lead the prayers only for the period of eleven months, in order that they not designate their parent as being wicked, because the judgment of the wicked is twelve months (Midrash Shmuel 31:21).” 

Thus if a son recites for the full twelve months it would appear to all that his parent is in need of extra protection due to some possible unforgivable sin[s]. Therefore this rule was enacted to create a general equality amongst all who are orphaned that treats their departed parent[s] with respect. Surely no child would wish to create any such appearance that might disrespect his parent.

To be continued…