Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cheating By Eating Meat At A Siyum During The Nine Days

DovBear cries fowl* -- or perhaps hypocrisy -- on the custom of some to make a siyum every day of the 9 days for the purpose of eating meat. He links to a piece in the Five Towns Jewish Times about a practice, promoted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of making a siyum every night of the nine days, and further, for those who cannot make it, a siyyum by radio.
More than 30 years ago, Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht organized siyumim for the benefit of people who could not make their own by making a siyum on the radio each night of the Nine Days. Each day, the siyum is scheduled to take place from 7:00 to 7:15 p.m. on WSNR 620AM and WVOS 1240AM. On Friday, it is scheduled for 6:45–7:00 p.m. On motzaei Shabbos, it is scheduled for 10:00–10:15 p.m. on WMCA 570 AM.

It is funny, and it is clearly inappropriate to take such measures so as to eat meat. Yet I think it is a good thing. And not because of the extra Talmud Torah that comes out of it.

The actual original prohibition to eat meat and drink wine is only on erev Tisha beAv, during the Seuda haMafseket and when held after chatzot, midday. That is the rule of the gemara. To cite it, from my Rif blog:
{Taanit 30a}
ערב תשעה באב לא יאכל אדם שני תבשילין ולא יאכל בשר ולא ישתה יין
רשב"ג אומר ישנה
ר' יהודה מחייב בכפיית המטה ולא הודו לו חכמים:
On erev 9th of Av, one should not eat two dishes {shnei tavshilin}, nor eat meat, nor drink wine.
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: He should change {his ordinary way of living}.
Rabbi Yehuda obligates one to turn over the bed {as a sign of morning} and the Sages disagreed with him.


א"ר יהודה אמר רב ל"ש אלא משש שעות ולמעלה אבל משש שעות ולמטה מותר.
אמר רב יהודה אמר רב לא שנו אלא בסעודה המפסיק בה אבל בסעודה שאין מפסיק בה מותר
ותרוייהו לקולא וצריכא דאי אשמעינן בסעודה המפסיק בה לחודה הוה אמינא אפי' משש שעות ולמטה קמ"ל משש שעות ולמעלה ואי אשמעינן משש שעות ולמעלה לחודה הוה אמינא אפילו בסעודה שאין מפסיק בה קמ"ל בסעודה המפסיק בה

Rav Yehuda cited Rav: They only learned this regarding from 6 hours {in the day} and on, but earlier than 6 hours, it is permitted.
Rav Yehuda cited Rav: They only learned this regarding the dividing meal {leading into the fast} but the non-dividing meal, it is permitted.
And both of them are lenient, and are necessary. For if it had informed us only about the dividing meal, I would have believed that even earlier than 6 hours {it is forbidden}. Therefore it informs us that this is from 6 hours and on.
And if it had informed it only about "from 6 hours and on," I would have believed that this is true even by a non-dividing meal. Therefore it informs us that this is the dividing meal.
The idea is that ain simcha ela bevasar veyayin, the only joy is with meat and wine, and thus these manifestations of joy are inappropriate as we enter into the fast of Tisha beAv, and so it is inappropriate to make the dividing meal of this. But chas veShalom you should think that during a dividing meal before midday it would be forbidden, or that chas veShalom even after midday for a non-dividing meal it would be forbidden. (OK, the chas veShalom is my addition :) )

Yet, despite the fact that the halacha was originally so, over time people extended this practice by custom to get

Over the years, the prohibition has been extended further and further. Of course the full erev Tisha beAv. But more than that -- the shevua shechal bo -- that is, the week in which Tisha beAv falls, paralleling other prohibitions which take place during that time span. And then, for some, for the entire 9 days from the beginning of Av. And, the night after Tisha beAv. And up until the 10th of Av until midday, perhaps for Rabbi Yochanan's statement that had it been up to him, he would have established the fast on the 10th (for that was when it was absolutely destroyed).

(Each of these extensions need not be well thought out or argued, it must be pointed out. Even if one person accepted the practice upon himself because of either frumminess or ignorance, and others copied it from him until it became common practice, it has become common practice.)

And these extensions, becoming the custom, become obligatory via a neder. And thus, the direction which Jewish practice can take is only more and more stringent, for we cannot take a custom that relaxes Biblical or Rabbinic law, and we cannot relax a strict Jewish practice because it has the status of vow. And as years go on, custom piles upon custom until you cannot do anything.

Even if this be the law, it is not a good direction for Rabbinic Judaism to take, in my opinion.

These stringencies not only restrict freedom of individual action, but also mess up more standard, well-founded commandments. Thus the issue about whether to bentch on wine/grape juice on Motza`ei Shabbat -- or in fact, any other time you would make a birkat haMazon on wine/grape juice. And the whole issue of using other beverages for havdalah, or else giving it to a katan to drink. This was not envisioned by the gemara, but is rather halacha having to conform and accommodate new stringencies imposed by minhag.

Now various law codes mention the siyum as an out, but also mention that it improper to misuse it as a trick.

So it is certainly cheating to do this, or to go to a meat restaurant where they have a rolling siyum. Who do you think you are fooling?

But at the same time, I am glad this is happening, for this establishes Jewish practice. Down the road, we can point to this practice of people eating meat using siyumim -- even using a flimsy "radio siyum," to reverse this trend of more and more stringencies, at least in this particular instance.

My one reservation is that this siyum is every night of the nine days. Does this include erev Tisha beAv? If people use this siyum trick on erev Tishba beAv, for a sedua haMafseket held after midday, because the entire meat issue has been extended such that they do not distinguish between levels (a la "Don't Even Touch the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil"), thus trampling over the law in the gemara, then that is somewhat problematic. On the other hand, there are other, extra, stringencies imposed on that meal, so I don't see this as likely to happen.

More on 9 days chumra-ism in a later post.


The Adjunct Professor said...

This is both a fascinating blog and a fascinating post. I am far from being at your knowledge and learning level, but definitely have a couple of thoughts.

1. Don't we have examples in the Torah where individuals were killed, or suffered G-d's wrath because they looked to do MORE than what was asked. It seems to me that even when we take on non-mandated Halchas or Minhags, we need to be careful.

2. Is not so much of what we do an attempt to 'Fool G-d'. My parents used to comment on this all the time. For instance, an Eruv, which certainly is accepted and should be accepted by all authorities as be appropriate, is a way to convince G-d that we are actually inside when clearly we are outside.

I would be curious to hear your take on this.

Also, I have a blog (not nearly as intellectual as this) relating to Judaism, titled A Jewish Thought ( ). Please feel free to check it out and if you deem it worthy, I would be honored to have you list it on your blogroll.

joshwaxman said...

indeed. but one thing that happens is that the community as a whole takes on non-mandated minhagim, and then, for various technical reasons (found in certain gemaras), they assume the full force of law, such that it is no longer optional.

then there are individual practices which are not initially required but assume the force of law after doing it once or a few time. such as, surprisingly, Maariv.

You are right that in certain contexts, halachic haArama, technical trickery, is applied, and encouraged. In other cases, it is discouraged. And it is a fine line between one thing and the next, and quite hard to classify. Here the exclusion to the practice of not eating meat, for a siyum, was allowed by certain authorities but with warnings of making it a trick, such as only inviting those you would typically invite to a siyum and other restrictions. The idea was not to avoid the prohibition on meat, but to give the siyum for learning the honor it required. But what distinguishes one from another is certainly something to be considered. Perhaps something to do with the spirit of what the Sages were trying to direct.

Shmuel Brin said...

Chabad Minhag is not to eat meat even in a normal (live) siyum.


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