The Fence Breaker
Raboyseyee and Ladies:
Just how far will people go to enjoy a good piece of meat during the nine days? Very! Shoin, after being invited to and partaking in four different siyums, and after chowing down hot dogs, burgers, steak and even some chicken (for dessert), the Ois’s cholesterol levels are through the roof mamish. Lipitor please! As we approach Tishe Be’ov, the last of the ‘nine days’ of increased sadness, the Ois admits that he did not see one unhappy face at the myriad rabbi-sanctioned loophole events. Not one person mentioned the fall of either Beis Hamikdash. Nor was there a mention of the other reasons given for increased sadness. Did other bad stuff happen during the three weeks, the nine days, and specifically on Tisha Be’ov? We shall address the ever- growing list of calamites that befell the Yiddin specifically on Tisha Be’ov below, but we do begin by pondering the following questions:
Is all this meat gorging kosher? Are we skirting the law, or at least the spirit of these laws when chowing down the skirt steak? Is meat restriction mamish a law? Also on my mind this week were the following questions: given that all four siyums were conducted in backyards where the family pool was mamish but feet away, and given that all guests heard and partook in the siyum which seemingly permits us to enjoy the mini fleish-fest, is it also permitted to jump into the pool to cool down? May one attending the siyum enjoy his hot dog while in the pool? And what else may be permitted by the siyum? If one heard a siyum in the morning, may one shop for new clothing? Try on new clothing? Do a few hundred laps? Sit on someone’s lap, if you chap? What specifically about the siyum allows us to forget the sadness associated with the destruction of the Botei Mikdas (both holy temples)?
Also on my mind this week are the following questions: How does one mourn during the nine days if one is a vegan? Should vegans and vegetarians be forced to eat meat during the nine days? Are those who love fish and dairy, those forced by their families and friends to dine out at meat restaurants while worrying if the menu will include at least one fish or vegan item, epes too happy during the nine days? How do vegetarians and vegans mourn the destruction? And these: Can one shave to attend the siyum? At the siyum? What other rules does the siyum dispense with?
And what the hec is a siyum? Just how does the siyum lift nine-day restrictions? Is this not but a loophole? So many questions, ober where can new find answers? Shoin, a few thousand years ago, our sages of yore declared that we are forbidden from eating meat and drinking wine during the nine days leading up to Tisha Be’ov. They chapped that most are happiest while consuming meat, but less happy when enjoying a nice piece of salmon, exotic sushi rolls and perhaps even sadder, while consuming dairy. They declared that these days call for less happiness, more sadness. With that declaration, as with many other laws -those enacted by our sages and those emanating from what began as but a minhag (custom) that went viral and has staying power, those in the fish business could look forward to a spike in sales. Were our sages sensitive to the financial needs of the purveyors of seafood products, those Yiddin who -back then in pre sushi days- barely made a living selling fish? In any event, the Yiddin had no choice and fish it was and remains for the nine days. Does it? We shall address that below, ober let’s begin with a shtikel primer.
What are the nine days? Why is the consumption of meat verboten? Is it really? The first nine days of the month of Av, known as the Nine Days, is a period of time established by our Rabbis to mourn the destruction of the two Batei -Mikdash (first and second temples, both seemingly destroyed on the very same days some 470 years or more apart). In order to properly mourn their loss and other calamites that befell the Yiddin on that very day of the month, the ninth of Av, colloquially known as Tisha Be’av, our sages piled on seemingly ever-growing additional restrictions. Mourning for real began with Rosh Chodesh Av and continues until Tisha Be’ov is over. In most years, many restricts continue until midday of the following day. It’s serious mourning. As an aside the list of calamities and misfortunes that befell the Yiddin keeps on growing and now includes at least five other sad events. Other calamities? What are they? And they all mamish took place on the 9th day of Av? OMG! Depending on where one looks and what one reads, the list now includes the following:
The punishment meted out by the RBSO for the sin of the miraglim (spies) who bad mouthed the land. Despite the heroic efforts of Kolave ben Yifuneh and Yehoishua bin Nun (both get positive shout outs in this week’s parsha of Devorim which always coincides with the week of Tisha Be’av), who spoke up for the land, the Yiddin became frightened and cried like babies. The RBSO was not happy, and on the eve of Tisha Be’ov, He decreed that all males over the age of twenty would never enter the Promised Land; they would drop dead right there in the hot midbar and only the next generation would enter only in year forty from Exodus.
According to historians, the first Beis Hamkidash (First Temple), built by Shlomo Hamelech was destroyed by the Babylonians on the 9th of Av in either 421 BCE or 423 BCE (opinions on the exact secular year differ). It was set ablaze and burned for 24 hours until just after midday on the 10th of Av. As a result, in most years, we continue mourning until midday and refrain from certain activities. Shoin.
Bayis Sheynee (The Second Temple) was built in 349 BCE, stood for more than 400 years. It was destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans, led by the man who would become Emperor Titus. For three weeks prior to, battles between the Jews and the Romans raged, and on Tisha Be’Av it culminated in a final battle. The Yiddin lost.
And if those events were not enough, in July 1290, a general expulsion of Jews was ordered by King Edward I. He made it clear that by November 1, all Jews had to leave the country or face execution. The Hebrew date on which this edict was announced was Tisha Be’Av. About 2,000 Jews were exiled from England, while less than a hundred converted to Christianity. Interestingly, the Tower of London served as the main point of exit for Jews who traveled out of England via the Thames River. Were that not bad enough, the exiled Jews were charged a deportation tax by the constable of the tower. The edict of expulsion ordered by the king was not viewed by historians as a sudden decision. For more than 200 years prior to this, Jews were subjected to increased persecution, which had already started with rumors of blood libels and pogroms in the 12th and 13th Century. Following the edict in 1290, Jews were not allowed to live in England until the 1650s, under Oliver Cromwell. Lesson learned? Yiddin in the United States should start paying attention.
On July 31, 1492 (the 9th of Av that year), practicing Jews living in Spain had to make their final decision: Convert to Christianity or leave the country. If conversos – converted Jews – stayed and continued to keep their faith in secret, but were found out by members of the Inquisition or exposed by neighbors, they would be tortured brutally into admitting their “sin” and later be burned, all of which was ordered by the Church.
In March 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella instituted the Alhambra Decree, otherwise known as the Edict of Expulsion, which ordered the expulsion of practicing Jews from the country, ranging between 45,000 to 200,000. The 1492 Edict of Expulsion was instituted mainly to eliminate the influence of practicing Jews on Spain’s large converso population and ensure they did not revert to Judaism.
And in world history, On August 1, 1914 (the 9th of Av), Germany declared war on Russia opening the gates of fire, fury and death that was the First World War. Finally, on July 23, 1942, Treblinka death camp, which was located in a forest northeast of Warsaw, began its operations as a death camp and continued operating until October 1943. The Hebrew date that operations began at the death camp was Tisha Be’Av.
Shoin, history class is over, Tisha Be’ov is real – bad stuff happens, ober we ask azoy: What’s all that got to do with eating meat during these nine days? Says the heylige Gemora azoy: only one who has properly mourned the Temple’s destruction will merit to see its rebuilding. And to properly mourn- so our sages told us- we must refrain from eating meat and drinking wine.
Ober, is this restriction found anywhere in the heylige Toirah? Not! In the heylige Gemora perhaps? Also not! Nevertheless, these restrictions became binding on the Yiddin (though Sefardim have a somewhat different starting point). How did this all begin? The bottom line: it’s an age-old custom and shoin; we don’t mess with the Zohan and we don’t mess with the custom! Custom = law! Who created the custom? Our sages of yore. Which ones? Sages known as the Rishoinim (earlier sages) talked and wrote about meat restrictions and shoin, here we are. The bottom line: because the custom took hold, one who violates it, is considered a poreitz-geder, literally, a “fence-breaker.” That’s it?! What’s pshat a fence breaker or fence breacher? Shoin, that depends on whom you ask but one pshat we can all chap goes azoy: Poiretz Geder means someone who doesn’t learn Toirah and doesn’t acknowledge the authority of the Toirah, who violates it publicly, and leads others on that path. The bottom line: though the consumption of meat during the nine days began as but a minhag-yisroel (a custom among the Jews), since it did take hold, one who violates it (without taking advantage of the kosher loophole)- is labeled a poiretz-geder. Seemingly, the term comes with negative connotations. How does a poiertz-geder get punished? Shoin, that too is the subject of great debate but all that for another day. Some say he’s eventually bitten by a snake.
What to do? Lest you go around sulking during the nine days yearning for some fleish and wine, other sages, later sages -perhaps with financial interests in the wholesale or retail of meat and chicken, or silent partners in restaurants, came along and were having none of the restrictions. They thought long and hard and decided there must a legal workaround, a fix for these meatless wineless days, and bless their souls, they came up with the nine-day loophole; they named it the siyum. Ober what is it? They, all versant avada in matters of halocho, remembered learning that certain events in our beautiful religion have the ability to dispense with onerous restrictions. Limoshol, if you drive for Hatzolo, while on a call, there is no shabbis; it’s suspended while you’re performing the mitzvah of saving a life. The rabbis recalled the concept of the ‘seudas mitzva’ – a meal where people gather to celebrate. It works azoy:
In plain English (and some Hebrew) a seudas mitzvah (סעודת מצוה, “commanded meal”), is an obligatory festive meal, usually referring to the celebratory meal following the fulfillment of a mitzvah (commandment), such as a bar mitzvah, a wedding, a bris milah (ritual circumcision), or a siyum (completing a tractate of the heylige Mishnah or the heylige Gemora. The bottom line: all these celebrations call for a seudas mitzvah and what’s a good seuda without meat? And wine. It’s not and shoin. Suddenly the seudas mitzvah was the loophole needed to enjoy meat. And since there are no restrictions on when one may perform a mitzvah calling for a seudas mitzvah, the nine days too are eligible.
Ober how does celebration conflate with mourning? And the answer raboyseyee is azoy: were you to spend more time learning and less time playing with your devices and other zachin, if you chap, you too could potentially have come up with this brilliant idea, one that allowed for the consumption of meat -as much as one desires- and also wine of every variety during days of heightened sadness. Bottom line: Happiness suspends sadness!
What the hec is a seduas mitzva you ask? How does one become obligated to make one? Can I attend a siyum on-line? Over zoom? Say the heylige Gemora (Shabbis 118b-119a), azoy” Abaye would make a special festive meal for anyone who completed a tractate. This concept is codified in the Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh Deah 246:26) as well. Rabbi Moshe Isserles rules that on finishing a tractate it is correct to rejoice and to make a festive meal. That meal is classified as a seudas mitzvah – a special meal that is similar to the ones eaten on regular Festival (Yom Tov) days. For that reason, some have the minhag to light two candles at the seudas mitzvah. Want more? Says the Maharsho citing a medrish that, after being granted infinite wisdom by the RBSO, King Solomon made a festive meal for all of his servants. Says the medrish: this is the source for making a celebration upon completing the Toirah. Just as the increase of wisdom of one man was a cause for celebration for his entire entourage, so too is the increase of Toirah knowledge a reason to celebrate. This is why we celebrate on Simchas Toirah when the cycle of reading the heylige Toirah is completed, and this is the same reason that we celebrate a siyum on a tractate.
That’s all givaldig, ober what has your friend’s siyum have to do with you? How does his learning exempt you from nine-day restrictions? Says Rabbi Yair Chaim Bacharach, (Chavot Yair 70), citing the Maharshal, azoy: any meal that a person makes together with his friends, either in order to show gratitude to the RBSO, or to publicize a miracle that occurred to him, constitutes a seudas mitzvah. Anyone who joins in such a gathering is considered to have partaken of the seudas mitzvah together with the person who is actually making it. So happens that at one siyum earlier this week, the ba’al misayim, the fine gentleman was making his first ever siyum and all will agree that it was no small miracle. Kudos to Richie Cooperberg!
More good news: our good friends over at Chabad, and other organizations who keep finding creative ways to raise money, now offer siyum’s on-line. Siyums are conducted daily, some on the hour; gishmak mamish for the carnivores who hate fish and dairy. For them getting happy is simple: log on, listen, say omen where appropriate, enjoy a good meat meal (with some wine) and get ready for Tisha Be’ov. To date, no one has found a workaround for fasting, ober many have discovered that TV and the internet make the hours pass. The good news: daring rabbis have found a way to shorten the numerous lamentations we used to recite when younger.
As an aside, this week, we’ll be reading Parshas Devorim.
A gittin Shabbis!
The Oisvorfer Ruv