Oct 11, 2009

Not Shaking the Lulav on Shabbat

Guest Post by Yoni Ross

In an article on Ynet published before Sukkot (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3783727,00.html), Louis Gordon announced that he will be reviving an ancient practice – taking the lulav (really the four biblically mandated species; the use of the term “lulav” is a common synecdochic allusion to the entire group) on Shabbat.

This is indeed an exciting decision, as I know Louis to be an observant Jew, and observant Jews have, by and large, refrained from taking the lulav on Shabbat for close to two millennia.

Would I be in Louis’s position, I would be as equally excited as he to be able to fulfill this special mitzvah in its proper time. Unfortunately, I am unable to, and it seems that Louis, in his eagerness to restore the mitzvah of lulav to its past glory, has misunderstood the words of those who guarded our tradition during a critical time in our history, as recorded in the Babylonian Talmud.

Louis seems to misunderstand the initial reason why use of the lulav was proscribed on Shabbat. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai (a resident of the land of Israel) instituted, following the destruction of the Second Temple, that certain mitzvot, lulav among them, not be observed on the Shabbat. His concern was that one who is not knowledgeable in the required practice may carry a ritual object (in this case a lulav, but similar enactments were made for a shofar and a megillat Esther) in the public domain, which would be a torah-level desecration of the Shabbat. While a lulav is “muktzeh” nowadays on Shabbat, this is due to Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai’s decree (which rendered a lulav useless on Shabbat), and is not, as Louis mistakenly understands, the reason for the decree.

Louis then delves into the relevant text in Talmud Sukka, which deals with taking the lulav on Shabbat. As Louis notes, the Talmud records that the Jews of the Diaspora (Babylonia) did not take the lulav on Shabbat, even on the first day of the holiday (when taking the lulav is biblically madated), since there was a doubt as to whether or not the first day of the holiday was observed on the correct day. Since this doubt did not exist for the communities in the land of Israel, they did take the lulav on the first day of the holiday, even if it coincided with Shabbat.

At this point, Louis feels that the Talmud (which was edited in Babylon) abruptly backtracks, “suddenly changes its position and surprisingly declares” that the Jews of the land of Israel should not take a lulav on the first day of the holiday if it coincides with Shabbat. He uses this as a springboard to describe “an atmosphere of competition and rivalry” between the Jews of the Diaspora and those of the land of Israel, as a result of which the Jews in the Diaspora imposed a prohibition on the Jews in Israel against taking the lulav on the Shabbat. As Louis describes it, once the Jewish community in the land of Israel had sufficiently declined, the Jews of the Diaspora were free to impose their own Halachic weltanschauung. He would have us believe that Jews in Israel took the lulav on the first day of the holiday, even if it fell on Shabbat, for two and a half centuries after the destruction of the Temple, until compelled to stop by the Babylonian Jewish community.

However, this view is not consistent with a reading of the Talmud.

After the Talmud describes the different practices of Diaspora Jewry and those in Israel in regard to lulav, it continues with a separate, but related, topic, and then discusses the custom of waving a willow branch, which was instituted as a commemoration of a similar practice performed in the Temple during the Sukkot holiday. The discussion concludes that just as a willow was not waved in the Diaspora, the communities in Israel refrained from doing so as well. This seems to be in direct contrast to the practice of taking the lulav, where the communities in the Diaspora and the land of Israel had different practices. The Talmud admits that a mistake had been made with regard to lulav, and concludes that the communities of the land of Israel did indeed refrain from taking a lulav, even on the first day of the holiday.

Several observations can be made:

First, the sudden backtracking of the Talmud identified by Louis does not exist. It is neither sudden nor surprising. As noted, this amendment comes after the Talmud had concluded its discussion of the lulav, and was only made in light of the conclusion of the discussion of the waving of the willow. Furthermore, this type of amendment is not surprising. There are innumerable instances throughout the Talmud where the conclusion of one discussion leads to the realization that an position arrived at earlier was erroneous. Keeping true to form, it identifies and corrects the discrepancy.

Second, once the mistake has been corrected, it is clear that the Jews of Israel did not take the lulav on Shabbat. Rather, as noted above, they ceased this practice following the destruction of the Second Temple, at the behest of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, who lived in Israel. Thus, the practice in the land of Israel since the time of the destruction of the Second Temple seems to have been to refrain from taking the lulav on the first day of Sukkot if it coincides with Shabbat.

Finally, there is no imposition of any worldviews. The Jews of Babylon did not dictate that Jews in Israel should not take their lulavim on the first day of the holiday if it falls on Shabbat. Rather, it is clear from the language of the Talmud they merely described the existing reality.

Significantly, on this last point, Rashi (who is recognized as the premier contributor to Biblical and Talmudic exegesis, and whose comments are generally assumed to reflect the most straightforward understanding of a text) explains that the reason that the Jews of the land of Israel changed their practice was to prevent the breakdown of the Jewish people into separate groups – indeed to promote Jewish unity. This is consistent with the tone throughout the entire corpus of the Talmud, which describes the open lines of communication between the Jews of Babylonia and those living in the land of Israel, and in fact the respect and reverence shown by the former toward the latter.

As the first day of the Sukkot holiday has passed, the above is for the time being moot, at least in terms of practical observance. The first day of the holiday will not occur on Shabbat for another eleven years. I look forward to that day, and to joining Louis on his way to taking his lulav in the Temple in Jerusalem, which should be rebuilt speedily in our days.


  1. Finally a voice of reason.

    My favorite part is where he thinks its like a competition between the amoraim. LOL. If you think the amoraim would steep so low, act so silly, as to be in a competition as to who is the greatest - why are you studying and being medayeik in every word? Maybe they just wrote it that way to gain fame. Maybe they just wrote it that way based on a whim. Maybe he felt it was more poetic.

    That line of reasoning seems to show a complete lack of understanding of what a talmid chacham is. Now, I can not claim to understand what an amora ia. I cant even claim in to understand what a rishon like Rashi or the Rashba is. I cant even fathom the Beis Yosef, Rema Shach Taz, gra. I dont even attempt to think that I can chaap the Chofetz Chaim or the Chazon Ish.

    But I will tell you this - go to the house of RCK. Go to the house of rav Michel Yehuda or rav Aron Leib. See what they are all about. See the purity. The holiness. The dedication of their life to emmes. And then realize, that THEY wouldnt even claim to comprehend a rishon, kal vechomer an amora.

    And then, after that exercise, think again if it makes sense to take OUR psychology, and OUR minds and try to make amoraim fit into it. Simply absurd.

  2. "My favorite part is where he thinks its like a competition between the amoraim. LOL. If you think the amoraim would steep so low, act so silly,"

    The most serious problem with Machon Shilo is that their analyses consistently make this assumption about the motives of amoraim (Babylonian ones at least). You can find similar, and more extreme, statements in other articles published on their web site.

  3. it is troubling to accuse all gedolim throughout history - today, amoraim, rishonim, achronim, as having a galus mentality and that that is what affected their psak.

    While sometimes it seems like there might be a certain amount of truth in such a claim, in specific instances, it is very brash to whitewash all 2000 years of gaonim with one paint brush sayign they all have had galus mentality and can/should be ignored.

  4. B"H

    Yoni, I would to suggest that you contact the Rav who I believe inspired Louis to do this, Rav David Bar Hayim.

    As well as Lois can field your questions, comments, challenges, I believe it would be more efficient to approach Rav Bar Hayim.

    Often, those challenging Louis or myself are willing to speak with us, but not with Rav Bar Hayim. Although I am not exactly sure why.

    I believe that Rav Bar Hayim

    Also, you should not feel embarrassed to ask him a common question which is asked of him: "By whose authority does HaRav believe he can rule kach v'kach?"

    That often seems to be the underlying question, the question of his shita, not the specific rulings.

    I hope you will take up my suggestion to contact him.


    P. S. I was part of the minyan in Yerushalayim which observed this practice of this misswah, having brought our lulavim to our place of tefilloth before Shabbath, even more so, we do not hold by the "eruv" in Jerusalem. That may be another question of interest for you to ask.

  5. What's even more troubling is that the following two things have not been made clear (as far as I know, I may be wrong):

    1) What the galus mentality is. If the terms are not defined, then Machon Shilo can dismiss any psak they don't like as being the result of a "galus mentality". I'm not suggesting that this is what they do, but by not providing a clear definition, the door is left open to such a tactic, and followers of Machon Shilo, or the next generation of Machon Shilo leaders, may easily find their way down this slippery slope.

    2) What the halachically problem is with a galus mentality. This is probably impossible to identify before the galus mentality is defined. However, taking a position, for example that Ashkenazim may ignore the practice of avoiding kitniyot on Pessach, and basing it on the premise that the original practice was grounded in a "galus mentality", seems to lack intellectual honesty. My gut tells me that the answer will probably seem to be unsatisfactory to most people since, like it or not, for almost 2,000 years, the centers of Jewish learning and halachic development occured in the Diaspora.

    The real problem with the lack of clarification of the above is that it puts the positions of Machon Shilo above all debate. If the rhetorical terms and positions they use are not understood by anyone outside the Machon, then no meaningful challenges can be posed against their positions, which will remain unrefined.

  6. Email address is found above.

    You know what to do.

    Rav Bar Hayim will be able to provide you with the best answers to your questions.

    Furthermore, I encourage you to ask him for clarification of anything he says to you.

  7. Ben-Yehuda,

    I did not contact the Rav, since Louis wrote the article in his own name. His point about why we do not take lulav on Shabbat if it falls on the first day was so off the mark that I did not assume that the Rav was behind it.

    I did ask Louis to point me to an article or some other resource by Rav bar-Hayyim explaining the position, which he did. I have not had time to review it. Once I do, if I have any questions, I will contact the Rav.

  8. OK. Understandable.

    Search on machonshilo.org "lulav" which will provide more extensive information than RBH's YNET article.

  9. Ben Yehudah - I dont feel a need to contact Rav Shilo, the same way I didnt feel a need to say anything to you - until now. Meaning until you said something in a public forum, in which I read, and more importantly, where other people, who can get confused by such confidence (or arrogance, depending on how much respect I wish to have for you) in these "funny" psakim. I say "funny" because thats what they are. Funny. Yes. Funny. Wierd. Strange. Different than anything until now.

    Who is Rav Shilo that he can change the mesorah? Is he himself a Gadol? Did his rebbeim consider him a Gadol? Did Rav Kapech, who I understand is his Rebbi, also do these strange actions? If so, did he preach that way to other NON-Teimanim? And if so, was his (RK) actions accepted by the Gedolei Yisroel of previous generations? (Note, the question is NOT was RK a Gadol? Thats irrevalent. Even if he was,) was his mesorah accepted for mainstream ashkenazi or sefadi Judaism?

    If his "shitta" is correct, where is his large following on big talmidei chachamim?

    We dont have elections, and being "selected" as one of the manhigim of klal yisroel is not a simple and clear process, but BH we have a mesorah of gedolim who have "appointed" their followers. The CC and Reb Chaim Ozer in Europe were accepted by all of European Jewry as the leaders. RCOG "appointed" the CI as the next manhig in his famous letter announcing the arrival of the CI in EY. The CI considered the Rov the next in line. And the Rov considered Rav Shach and the Steipler next in line. Regarding psak, there is a mesorah of how tings work. No its not clear. But its not from way out in left field.

    But, I state again, like Rafi said, you can not try to attemp to put the amoraim in roles with feelings the way we view the world. This is silliness - at best. And bordering on narishkeit --- The later amoraim - not geonim, rishonim or achronim, but amoraim - considered earlier achronim to malachim. Is that a joke? Is it a guzma? Is that also the galus mentality?

    And one more remark - who invented this Galus mentality?

  10. And one more remark - who invented this Galus mentality?
    --- meaning who decided it is null and void at this point in time, and we should therefore disregard all these mainstram psakim of the past 2000 years?

  11. Well, you certainly don't have to contact him. However, he is the one who will be most likely to provide you with adequate answers to your questions.

    And, with that, I will refer you to him.

    Although I understand his rulings and shitah, I am not equipped with the skills necessary to explain them adequate, and to answer your challenges.

    I personally believe that your questions can be answered, and that you should make your challenges known to him.

    More than a few times, I have tried, and have failed because of my lack of skill.

    {For example, my blog receives criticism because I am sometimes not clear, in all areas, not just halachic ones.}

    So, I accept that I do not yet posses the necessary skills to answer your questions sufficiently.

    And, I do believe that you are entitled to sufficient answers to your questions.

    Rav Bar Hayim believes that rulings must hold up against scrutiny. However, he cannot defend his rulings, unless he himself is approached.

    Wouldn't you agree that RBH would be the best one to answer questions about his shitah?

  12. I am sure he would be the best one. However I have been taught that there is a time to ask a shaila and a time not to ask a shaila.

    For example, when I wake up in the morning, I dont ask the Rov which pants to wear. When I purchase a suit, I dont ask a shaila, stripes - should they be 2 inches apart or an inch an a half apart.

    Why not?

    Simple. I dont have a safek. Aseh lecha rav, v'histalek min hasafek. There is no safek, there is no question. I can buy any suit I darn well please, and I can wear any pair of pants.

    I dont ask him if I should be a chabadsker - because there is no doubt in my mind regarding this issue (-I- should not be one).

    In a similar vein, I do not feel the need to contact every scientist, and theorist out there. I am not interested in hearing the nitty gritty details of how the 2012 doomsday people got their ideas from. Sure, they might have proofs and quotes and who knows what. But -I- dont have any questions about it. I think they are nuts. Keeps the busy. Keeps them out of trouble. Great.

    I do not have any questions about this new shitta. -I- am sure its wrong. I am sure RS can wiggle past me. He can probably run circles around me with sources to his credit. Regardless. -I- think he is wrong. And if I had a shaila, I would ask MY rov, not him. Ein Chadash tachas hashemesh. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shach, whose entire life was spent engrossed in learning until he became as close to a cheftza of Torah as is humanly possible, has taught us that we must follow the mesorah of our fathers. We must follow the way things have been until now.

    "Galus mentality" ?? My foot! With all due respect, MOST major poskim hold that we are still in Galus.

    And ALL poskim rule that you can not disregard 2000 years of psakim by saying that there was a competition between EY'dike and Bavel'dike Amoraim - as if they were in a fantasy league to see who can get the most points in Talmud maskanot.

    My kids have taught me a great lesson, "Me she'omer - Hu be'atzmo" - I am not accusint RS of being in a competition - but HE himself is no greater than the amoraim that he claims (acc tot his article) were in a competition of some sort. So maybe he is following in the footsteps of the amoraim, and himelf is in some competition as to who can be ..... (fill in the blank yourself).

    I am not looking for his answers to the above. Only questions need answers. This "shitts" doesnt need an answer. Its like the "sanhedrin" which has recently popped up. It needs somethign else, which I dont want to say out loud

  13. I find it difficult to accept any criticism nor counter arguments from you, if you are unwilling to do thorough research into the matter, regardless of your reasons for not doing so.

  14. Yoni Ross' article is replete with inaccuracies and unfortunately is not as scholarly as it might seem. For now, let me state for the record that it is a historic fact that Jews did wave lulav on Shabbath when the first day fell on Shabbath well into the period of the Geonim. I am told by one scholar that this practice continued until the 8th century.

    This is what Jews of Eretz Yisrael did-it is not a fairy tale. If a learned scholar such as Rav Bar-Hayim wishes to revive a practice which was actually done during the period of the Geonim-why should this be considered radical unless one feels that the Jewish return to Eretz Yisrael during the last century is of no significance.

    Ross' presentation regarding R' Yochanan Ben Zakai is also incorrect.

    I have not yet seen anyone "upshlugg" Rav Bar-Hayim. To witness this one should see Rav Yiar Hoffman's interview which appears on YouTube. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsJGxA5kGWc

  15. To those who are spouting haredi-tainted hashkafah about how "we can't even begin to understand anything"-anyone heard of kinath sofrim?

    We can and should believe that Hazal were monumental scholars and Jews-does this mean kinath sofrim did not exist-well, the Gemara, i.e. Hazal seems to say that it did exist. So much for how "funny" the claim is that there could have been a situation of competition between the two Torah centers.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. I would like to define "galus mentality" for Yoni:

    I just heard of a "Charedi" family that just made aliyah and they asked their "Rav" whether they should keep one or two days of chag. He told them that they should keep two days of chag until he makes aliyah.

    This *is* true. And no, they don't live in Rafi's town. ;-)

    And yes, further questions about the 4 minim or kitniyot should be referred to Rav Bar-Hayim. Would u be up for coming to a shiur in Yad Binyamin... it's closer than RBS.

  18. a "Charedi" family that just made aliyah and they asked their "Rav" whether they should keep one or two days of chag. He told them that they should keep two days of chag until he makes aliyah.

    who is the "until he makes aliyah"? until the rav makes aliyah? what does their status having already made aliyah have to do with the rav making aliyah?

  19. I propose that a debate be organized between Rav Bar-Hayim and another talmid hacham from RBS regarding the issue of halachic methodology or any other relevant issues. In any case Rav Bar-Hayim frequently gives shiurim in RBS-it would be a very edifying experience.

  20. Permit me to go off topic for a moment.

    Evey time I heard guys tell me they were keeping "one and a half" days of Yom Tov, I had to hold myself back from cringing.

    Galuth mentality, anyone?

  21. Why can't we make a distinction between the saintliness of Rav Chaim Kaniefsky, Rav Michal Lefkowitz, Rav Aharon Leib- and the question of whether they or other great talmidei hachamim of this or previous generations were necessarily correct on a given halachic issue.

    Furthermore, while the Rishonim were great Torah scholars-how can anyone try to learn Torah seriously without being analytical enough to understand that if Rashi is right on a given issue, then Rambam might necessarily have to be wrong on the same issue. Yes, great Torah scholars can be saintly and incredible scholars but can not always be correct on any given issue.

  22. We need not fear the "slippery slope" possiblity regarding Machon Shilo's approach. Rav Bar-Hayim has not hidden agendas. He puts all his cars on the table-and his goal is emeth. His approach is to not necessarily be makil or machmir-yes, he says that kitniyoth on Pesach are mutar, but as has been pointed out-he does not hold by modern neighborhood eruvim, he also happens to wear tefillin all day-not a big kullah either.

  23. My advice to all those who have a nagging doubt about whether just maybe Rav Bar-Hayim is "on to something". To those who feel deep inside of them that maybe now that the Jewish nation is returning to Eretz Yisrael that we should be returning to the Talmud Yerushalmi as Rav Kook wrote.

    Don't just hear ABOUT Rav Bar-Hayim-hear him speak-either live or at www.machonshilo.org I remember all of the naysayers regarding Rabbi Meir Kahane who decades later regret having been anti-Kahane. Don't do the same regarding the visionary of our time!

  24. Shmuel,

    Thanks for the vague put-down. If you feel that my response is full of inaccuracies (which it may well be), then please take the time to point them out specifically (as I did when I felt that Louis' article was inaccurate) without resorting to a substantially unsupported attack.

    Perhaps I should refine what I meant. Perhaps people did take the lulav on Shabbat on the first day of Sukkot into the Gaonic times. That may be relevant to what Louis wrote, but not so much to my point. Louis tries to show from the Bavli that the practice in EY was to take the lulav. I attempted to show that this cannot be shown from the Bavli. (Since I wrote a response to Louis, and not an attempt to refute the practice, the scope of the article was limited to what Louis wrote.) If you've got another source, please share.

    In connection with RYbZ, you are correct. Take out his name and the point still stands - lulav was not proscribed on Shabbat due to the d'rabbanan of muktzeh, but out of a concern for the d'orayta of hotza'ah.

    This is what Jews of Eretz Yisrael did-it is not a fairy tale. If a learned scholar such as Rav Bar-Hayim wishes to revive a practice which was actually done during the period of the Geonim-why should this be considered radical unless one feels that the Jewish return to Eretz Yisrael during the last century is of no significance.

    I never said it was a fairy tale. I said that it seems (from the sources brought by Louis) that the practice in EY was to not take the lulav.

    I also fail to understand the connection between the significance of the return to the land in the past century to the revival of long-abandoned practices. I understand the rhetorical intent, but not the logical connection.

  25. Louis,

    That's an example of something. Maybe "galut mentality", maybe an irresponsible psak, maybe a story with import.bant details missing. What it is not is a definition of anything.


    Anon 10:12,

    I have no doubts as to Rav bar-Hayyim's sincerity or scholarship. I specifically said that his followers or the next generation of leaders may follow a slippery slope of pulling out the "galut mentality" line to support anything they want, which will be very easy to do until it clearly defined.

    I'm not really sure what your point is concerning the eiruv or tefillin all day. (As a side point, wearing tefillin all day does has a "kullah" aspect to it, as it presents the danger that the wearer may not have the proper kavana or be able to maintain a "guf naki". Nothing specific to the point at hand, but it's important to realize that almost any kullah has a "chumrah" aspect to it, and vice-versa.)

  26. The Talmud Yerushalmi never accepts the position of the Talmud Bavli regarding not waving lulav on Shabbath.

  27. I think that it is a tragedy that so much of the Torah world is not familiar with Rav Kook's writings and support for returning to the Talmud Yerushalmi as Jews return to Eretz Yisrael.

    Kol HaKavod to Rav David Bar-Hayim for being a voice of truth in the wilderness, a voice of courage willing to continue the legacy of Rav Kook, ztz"l.

    Torat Eretz Yisrael will not fall out of the sky, in much the same way that Mashiach will not either. We ourselves have to adopt pro-active apporaches and make it happen!

  28. Rav David Bar-Hayim is the most fascinating rabbi I have ever met. I encourage all to hear his shiurim at www.machonshilo.org

  29. I know I've asked this before, but are followers and/or supporters of R' Bar-Hayyim able to mention his name without reminding us that his website is www.machonshilo.org?

  30. The reason why I mention it, or link to it, is so that the new reader who has yet to see it, will see it.


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