Monday, December 19, 2005

A Piece I Wrote for the RKYHS Weekly Newsletter

Extracurricular Talmud Enrichment

Talmidim of the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School have embarked on a new journey of discovery in the "Sea of the Talmud." At the request of Yehuda Popack and Eitan Fine in my 11-12th grade shiur, and Yoni Rozenberg in my 9-10th grade shiur, we have just begun to implement an optional Enrichment. B'ezrat Hashem, we will be pursuing Talmudic logic through problems from the sefer Mishmeret Chaim. This sefer is based on the famous וואס איז דער חילוק What is the Distinction series of Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg shlita, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Torah Ore in Yerushalayim.

For many years, every Thursday evening Rabbi Scheinberg presents his students with a logical conundrum: Two seemingly contradictory laws or principles. The students are then given the opportunity to come up with a resolution.

For example, one of the questions is: When we affix mezuzot to the doors of a house, we recite the same berachah no matter how many mezuzot we are affixing – a berachah that is phrased in the singular: “Who has commanded us to affix a mezuzah.”

On the other hand, when we bring new vessels to a mikveh, the text of the berachah depends on how many vessels we intend to immerse: If there is only one vessel to be immersed, the berachah is: “Who has commanded us to immerse a vessel,” but if there are two or more vessels to be immersed, the berachah changes to: “Who has commanded us to immerse vessels.וואס איז דער חילוק why in the case of mezuzah is there no variation in the text, while in the case of tevilat kelim there is variation?

At the end of last week, we posed a question that relates to the topic that we are currently studying in Mesechet Sukkah. The rule we just learned is that העוסק במצוה פטור ממצוהa person who is involved at the moment in one mitzvah is exempt from involving himself in another mitzvah. Why, then, is the law that a person who is in the middle of Keriat Shema must interrupt his Shema so as to answer to Kaddish or Kedushah? Keriat Shema is a mitzvah and so is Kaddish. וואס איז דער חילוקwhy does the normal principle of a person who is involved at the moment in one mitzvah is exempt from involving himself in another mitzvah not apply in this case?

Aryeh Ackerman, one of the students in the 11-12th grade shiur, came up with a resolution (one of those proposed by Rabbi Scheinberg himself!) almost immediately. His response was based on a law he had learned in his last year's Talmud class with Rabbi Levy: The law is that one may interrupt one's Keriat Shema to greet a human being whom one fears or of whom one is in awe, such as a king. If that is the case, it is a קל וחומר certainly the case that one may interrupt one's Keriat Shema in order to”greet” Hashem via Kaddish or Kedushah, as we are certainly in fear and in awe of the King of Kings! (The same response was given later and separately by Yehoshua Bloom.)

We hope this initiative continues to prove successful, and that other students will join in the quest to resolve these challenging problems. B'ezrat Hashem, we will be able to share some of the problems — and some of our students' chiddushim in resolving these problems — with you on these pages.


  1. What are some answers for the kelim/mezuzah distinction? The only thing I can think of is that mezuzahs must all be the same (i.e. no textual variations) while kelim are often different (shapes, sizes, material, etc.).

  2. One possible distinction is that in the case of mezuzah you can only be kovei'ah, b'metzi'us, one mezuzah at a time. In the case of keilim, on the other hand, you can tovel many keilim simultaneously. One can only make a bracha on the type of act one can perform immediately, so in the case of mezuzah it must be singular, while in the case of keilim it may be plural.

  3. cant u put up a few mezuzos at once if you affix them using cement of strong glue