Not Mistreating Former Mitzvot

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Not Mistreating Former Mitzvot and Rules of Removing Blood

Parshat Chayei Sarah, 5784: Orach Chaim 21 and Yoreh De’ah 22

In our physical world, anything wears out, including objects we have used for mitzvot and other valuable Jewish purposes. Orach Chaim 21 discusses how to dispose of such items, an example of an agreed-upon principle—we may not be mevazeh a mitzvah, treat it insultingly—without clear source-based guidance on the details. Bringing disagreement.

Leftovers are the Challenge

AH Orach Chaim 21 starts with the ruling of Megillah 26b, we may discard tashmishei mitzvah, objects used to perform a mitzvah, such as a sukkah, lulav, shofar, or tzitzit, where tashmishei kedushah, such as a cover for a sefer Torah or a container for tefillin, used to support sanctified objects, must be buried.

AH in se’if 2 thinks the ruling somewhat obvious, because mitzvot have no inherent sanctity (where Torah does). [He doesn’t quite say it, but he seems to mean Torah writing is always significant, regardless of current use, where mitzvah items’ importance stems only from their active employment. Once a set of tzitzit will no longer be worn, they lose their status.]

She’iltot 126 explains, this halachah tells us we may not use these tashmishei mitzvah for our own needs, the strings of tzitzit as ordinary string, for example. All we can do is throw them out. She’iltot likened it to kisui ha-dam, the obligation to cover the blood of birds and certain animals after killed for food. The one covering the blood may not kick the dirt onto the blood, that is disrespectful to the mitzvah.

What Constitutes Mistreatment

Tur disliked the comparison, because kicking the dirt actively denigrates the mitzvah, where using a string for other purposes does not. AH defends She’iltot, but the details are not relevant to us: once we have a debate among reputable authorities, we’re not going to settle it here.

For a third view, se’if three cites Rambam, Laws of Tzitzit 3;9, who allows wearing tzitzit into a bathroom (remember “tzitzit” generally means what we call a tallit; men today do not wear their tallit into the bathroom, and probably would instinctively agree with Tur, it denigrates the mitzvah if we did). Rambam also allows throwing them away if they break, although AH thinks he, too, would not have allowed using them for one’s own purposes.

Se’if four of our siman has Beit Yosef’s summary, we may throw them out after they can no longer be used, but while still in use, it degrades the mitzvah to use them for our own purposes.

There’s Neutral and There’s Negative

Rema thinks tossing them out like garbage too extreme, the halachah only meant they need not be put in genizah, in the special burial place for worn out Torah writings. More, Rema praises those who choose to put these kinds of items in genizah, considers it a laudable expression of respect [earlier authorities had sounded like former tashmishei mitzvah have zero significance; Rema is arguing Megillah meant only they have less significance than tashmishei kedushah.]

AH ratifies Rema’s opposition to degrading treatment as the law, not a stringency, but his preference for genizah was a lone view. Magen Avraham promoted finding some other valuable use for these items, like turning former tzitzit strings into bookmarks in one’s Torah study.

AH supports his claim with the next paragraph in Shulchan Aruch, where R. Yosef Karo himself prohibits using a former tallit (the garment to which the tzitzit were attached; the worn-out strings are items of former mitzvah, but the garment was never itself a mitzvah at all) as toilet paper. AH argues he is making the same point as Rema, regardless of an obligation to bury an item, nobody thought we could turn it into ordinary trash.

Sleeping in Tzitzit

Shulchan Aruch’s se’if three accepted Rambam’s permission to wear tzitzit into the bathroom, and to sleep in them, although some objected to the latter (because we are not as in control of ourselves when we sleep). Some also opposed giving tzitzit to a non-Jewish cleaner, for fear the non-Jew will not treat them properly.

AH, se’if six, does not see how it can be worse to wear tzitzit to sleep than to the bathroom, and suggests it is too much to ask people to take them off every time they relieve themselves (he means tzitzit worn on garments that don’t come off easily, perhaps the reason we do take off our tallitot before going into the bathroom, especially because the tallit is much more of a ritual garment, worn only during prayer, as Taz said, with AH’s agreement).

While Rema allowed sleeping in tzitzit, Magen Avraham noted the Arizal valued it.

Not On the Floor

The last paragraph of the siman discusses letting the strings of a tallit drag on the floor, where some authorities inferred a deep problem from Yeshayahu 14;23, but others thought only deliberate stepping on them was. While some tucked their tallit’s strings into their belts to avoid dragging, AH doesn’t think we need get too excited about occasional, incidental contact with the floor.

As I said at the outset: an agreed-upon issue, bizayon mitzvah, with disputed applications and little source material to produce an unequivocal ruling.

Yoreh De’ah 22: Getting Out All the Blood

Turning to Yoreh De’ah 22, our next siman in the list, we find ourselves in a discussion of how to ensure a slaughtered bird exsanguinates to the full extent possible during shechitah. Remember that shechitah, the way to kill an animal and make its meat kosher, requires slicing two simanim, the esophagus and windpipe (for a bird, slicing only one suffices). AH Se’if 1 relies on Rambam for an idea Chazal commanded, the shochet, the man killing the animal, must also slice or puncture two veins near the simanim, while the bird is still in its death throes, the blood still warm.

Chazal held this blood will only flow during shechitah; failing that, neither salt nor fire would remove it. Worse, this blood flows all the time during the bird’s life, denying us a leniency we apply to some other kinds of blood (in the organs), blood that hasn’t moved is not prohibited. This blood has definitely moved.

The Whole Animal is the Problem

Should the shochet fail to slice or pierce these veins during shechitah, Rosh held that cutting up the bird along with salting would suffice. In se’if two, AH connects Rosh’s idea to the reason Chazal did not apply the stringency to animals; birds tend to be cooked/roasted whole, so they made a blanket rule, lest the owner change his/her mind after shechitah and cook it whole. Should someone plan to roast or cook an entire animal, AH thinks the shochet must make sure to slice these veins there as well.

As an aside, he warns us not to think we need these veins are a necessary part of proper shechitah, it is only about being sure all the needed blood is in fact pulled from the animal [he goes no further, but implies that were we to discover some other way to remove all this blood, we would not be obligated to include this in shechitah]. He also writes, as the Karaites who walk in darkness think, a reference I don’t understand (did Reform Jews of his time think slicing the veins was part of shechitah?).

Skipping to se’if four, some accepted cutting off the head as the animal/bird not being whole, because the opening leaves room for blood to flow out during salting. The head itself must be cut in two, Rema in se’if one writes, based on Mordechai in the name of Rabbenu Tam.

When We Didn’t Slice the Veins

Going back to AH’s se’if three, a bird’s veins are close enough to what is already cut that they generally do get sliced, but we cannot assume that with an animal. (The rest of the se’if has a debate between Rashba and Re’ah about where no blood came out during slaughter, a distant enough situation that we can leave it).

When the veins were not sliced, and the animal roasted whole, our siman gives us a first taste of how far we have to worry about a much broader topic, when prohibited items are cooked with permitted ones, how far do we have to worry about their spread. In this case, we have to throw away the veins themselves (since they have blood in them we are not allowed to eat), then cut around them the thickness of a finger, called kedei netilah. In other fairly similar circumstances, we allow ourselves just kelipah, peeling off one layer, because we suspect the material didn’t exude as much into the rest of the neck. Here, we worry more.

We might have required sixty times the volume of the veins in the rest of the animal, as we do when prohibited material has been cooked with permitted material, but Rosh argued that blood doesn’t spread as widely during roasting as during cooking. Later in Yoreh De’ah, siman 105 will require sixty times to nullify prohibited materials even with roasting, but here enough authorities (Tosafot and Semag) applied the principle of ke-vol’o kach polto, whatever was absorbed into the animal by roasting would have equally been expelled during that roasting.

We don’t rely on that fully, because there is clearly still blood in the veins at the end of the roasting process, telling us they would have also been exuding blood throughout, without enough time for the rest of the animal to expel it (says Rashba in Torat HaBayit).

However, since it is all a stringency, cutting out a finger’s thickness is considered enough. [Although there can be no general prescription, we should remember that whenever a certain practice is a stringency, it leaves room for deciding otherwise in times of significant pressure.]

The Lack of Law

Se’ifim six through ten, which I do not intend to summarize, show a bit of the free-for-all in this area of halachah. AH records debates about how to react if the animal was salted with veins that had not been sliced/punctured, whether to remove just the veins, peel around them, all surprising to AH, who knows the Gemara says salting counts like roasting for many purposes. He suggests it is all a stringency, because we fundamentally accept ke-vol’o kach polto, whatever was absorbed was also expelled by the heat of the fire.

It is tempting to list other options that were suggestedexcept this is not a common issue in our days, when few of us purchase or cook animals whole. In addition, as is clear from the conversation, the likelihood of a clear right answer to this question is very low, since it is about how much blood we have to remove, what kind of blood causes us worry, and how the cooking process affects the issue.

For this time around, we have seen exactly what I hope we become more sensitive to in halachah: a general principle of the Gemara, whose application was not delineated clearly enough to be determinative. We are left with debates among rishonim and acharonim, all important to our practice today, but amenable to various approaches, awaiting a future Sanhedrin’s clearer ruling. Next time, back to Even HaEzer, for another long siman.

About Gidon Rothstein

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