Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Tzav, Erev Pesah

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Tzav, Erev Pesah 5761/ April 7, 2001

Parashat Tzav and the Laws of Kashering for Passover

Rabbi Aharon Katz
The Ludwig and Erica Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studies
Editor's Note: We would like to wish all our readers a Hag Kasher Vesameah, a happy and healthy holiday

It is a well-known talmudic principle that earthenware vessels that have been contaminated cannot be kashered [made kosher, fit for use] according to the laws for kashering vessels, and that therefore they must be broken. Tractate Avodah Zarah (34a) says, "Of an earthen vessel [its contamination] can never be removed from its walls." Looking closer at the gemara, we find the words, "Thus the Torah attests," added to this rule; in other words, the Torah says explicitly that earthenware cannot be kashered. Where did the Torah attest to this?

The answer lies in this week's reading, which among other things concerns sin offerings. The Torah states (Lev. 6:21): "An earthen vessel in which it was boiled shall be broken; if it was boiled in a copper vessel, [the vessel] shall be scoured and rinsed with water." Rashi, in his commentary on the gemara (loc. sit.) wrote that the verse speaks of a sin-offering that was boiled in an earthen vessel. If not consumed on that day, the sacrifice becomes "notar" ["left over" and not permissible] the next day; the verse is telling us that earthen vessels cannot be restored by scouring and rinsing, what we call hag'ala, and hence must be broken. In contrast, copper vessels, from which one can remove the taste of the sin-offering which has come into the vessel by scouring and rinsing, may be reused the next day for boiling other sacrifices.

In Hilkhot Ma'aseh ha-Korbanot Maimonides rules that this does not concern "sin offerings alone, rather all vessels that are used for kodashim (sacrifices), whether these be sacrifices of major degree of sanctity [kodshe kodashim] or of minor degree [kodashim kalim], require scouring and rinsing in the wake of eating," and gives the halakhic instruction: "The vessel should be scoured and rinsed, whether it be a vessel of metal or of earthenware, save for sin offerings whose earthen vessels must be broken" (8.14). In his criticisms (hassagot) of Maimonides, Rabad (Rabbi Abraham ben David of Posquieres) notes: "His saying that an earthen vessel requires scouring and rinsing [i.e. that hag'ala works for eatnen vessels] is an error on his part; and the Tosefta makes explicit that it is only to be broken."
It seems that Maimonides' interpretation should be further questioned by us, insofar as the verse in this week's reading indicates that scouring and rinsing an earthen vessel is inadequate only with regard to sin offerings, and these offerings alone, whereas with other offerings, immersion in boiling water does remove whatever taste was absorbed in such vessels. If so, we return to the accepted halakhic ruling in Avodah Zarah cited above that earthenware vessels can never be koshered. Where does the Torah reveal that no sort of contamination can ever be removed from an earthen vessel?

This question has been addressed by various rabbinic schools. In this brief sketch I would like to discuss the points elucidated in the schools of Rabbi Hayyim Brisker Soloveitchik, and his grandson, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik.

It is a well-known principle in the laws concerning issur and heter ("that which is forbidden and that which is permitted") that there is a difference between kashering a vessel when the substance absorbed in it does not yet fall into the category of being a proscribed material (heteira bala) and kashering a vessel when the substance in it is already considered forbidden (issura bala). For example, when kashering dishes for Passover; it makes a difference if the kashering is done when the proscription against leaven does not yet apply, or if the koshering is done when leaven is already forbidden (after mid-day on the 14th of Nissan). When the vessel is kashered prior to the time that the proscription applies, even if a vestige of the taste of the proscribed food remains in the vessel, that vestige does not make the vessel unfit when the proscription comes into effect. On the other hand, if the vessel is kashered after the time that the proscription applies, even the smallest vestige of the proscribed thing prohibits the use of the vessel.

Those who kashered the vessels in the Temple, as in the Tabernacle, would scour and rinse them prior to the time that the meat in them became notar, i.e., when it was still permissible to eat; and therefore even if a slight trace of meat were to remain in the vessel, that trace would be no more than a mashehu," a something" of permitted matter and as such it would not make the vessel unfit for reuse the following day (even though at that point the food remaining in the dish would have become notar).
In contrast, when one wishes to kasher an earthen vessel once the substance in it has already become totally forbidden, then one must remove all of the forbidden substance, and since that is not feasible with an earthen vessel, the vessel cannot be purged.

With this understanding, let us now reexamine the relevant verses in this week's reading in light of the way Maimonides' ruled. For all types of sacrifice, an earthen vessel only required hag'ala, scouring (immersing in boiling water) followed by rinsing in cool water to make it possible to use the vessel again the following day. Any residual taste of a forbidden substance that would have remained in such vessels from a time when that substance was permitted would not make the vessel unfit for use. But the case of sin offerings is different and far stricter than all other sacrifices. In such cases the Torah did not permit reusing an earthen vessel, even after scouring and rinsing, because even the slightest vestige of prohibited thing that might have remained in the vessel sufficed to prohibit ever using the vessel again, and since there is no way of removing every last trace, it had to be broken.

From this the Talmud in Avodah Zarah deduced the general principle that "contamination never leaves the surface of an earthen vessel", reasoning that if scouring and rinsing could remove all that had become engrained in a vessel, there would have been no reason for proscribing reuse of such a vessel even in the most strict case of a sin offering, since after scouring and rinsing there would not remain even a trace of the meat of the sin offering in the vessel, and the vessel would not transmit the taste of the sin offering to something else on the following day. From the Torah's words, "an earthen vessel in which it was boiled shall be broken," one learns that scouring and rinsing-hag'ala-- is not sufficient to remove all forbidden substances from it. The reason the Torah did not proscribe reusing earthen vessels in other sacrifices is that the "something" that might remain in the vessel-the mashehu of issur-- did not have the force to make it unfit for reuse when boiling other sacrifices.

In his Talmud class, Rabbi J. D. Soloveitchik noted that since kashering dishes for Passover is done before the time that hametz is forbidden, when the hametz is considered a permissible substance [hetera bala], there was ostensibly room for permitting the use on Passover of earthenware that had been scoured and rinsed prior to the time hametz was forbidden; but as we all know, the halakhah prohibits kashering earthenware for Passover (Shulhan Arukh, Orakh Hayyim 451). In Tractate Pesahim the Talmud rules that earthenware casseroles are to be broken in preparation for Passover (by those who are of the opinion that hametz is prohibited by the Torah during the period it is proscribed and after that time).

This halakhah must be elucidated in the light of Maimonides' remarks, ruling that vessels used for hametz require rinsing in cool water [shtifa] after immersing in boiling water. Indeed, it has been noted by the Maggid Mishnah and the author of Hagahot Maimoniyot that the source for this law also appears in this week's Torah reading: "if it was boiled in a copper vessel, [the vessel] shall be scoured [moraq] and rinsed [ve-shuttaf] with water";just as the sacred vessels used in the Temple required scouring (immersing in boiling water) and rinsing (washing off in cool water), so too kitchenware that one wishes to kasher for Passover must be immersed in boiling water then rinsed in cool water. Looking closely at Maimonides' statement of the halakhah, we observe that he made this ruling only with respect to koshering for Passover, but did not mention it with respect to other forbidden foods. This proves that according to Maimonides' approach it is precisely the dishes that will be used on Passover that must be kashered the way vessels in the Temple were kashered – by scouring and rinsing. Just as the sacred vessels had also to be rinsed in cool water after being immersed in boiling water, so we are to do with kitchenware to be used on Passover. But if one seeks to kasher a vessel because it has been contaminated by a forbidden food [such as pork], one has only to remove the forbidden substance that has come onto it, and this is done by scouring [hag'ala] alone, with no need to rinse the vessel in cool water after immersing in boiling water. It is for this reason that Maimonides does not mention any requirement to rinse a vessel in cool water after immersing it in hot water in his discussion of the halakhah concerning forbidden foods.

This leads to another halakhah regarding Passover dishes, which is deduced from the laws concerning the Temple vessels. An earthen vessel that has been used for a sin offering cannot be used again for another sin offering, because of the minute contamination of forbidden food that is still engrained in it; similarly, one is not to use an earthen vessel that has been immersed in boiling water prior to the time that hametz becomes forbidden because of the vestige of hametz that remains in it. This provides a clear explanation why in Tractate Pesahim (30a) the Talmud ruled that earthen cookware must be broken for Passover. Nevertheless, there is room to argue that immersing in boiling water is of avail in kashering a vessel that has contacted either milk or meat, even if the vessel is earthenware, since the substance that has contacted the vessel is a permitted substance [milk alone and meat alone are permissible substances], and most of it is removed by immersing in boiling water (cf. Resp. R. Akiva Eiger, 49).

This discussion sheds fresh light on the piyyut (liturgical poem) by R. Joseph Tov Elem, read as a Yotzer on Shabbat Ha-Gadol, the Sabbath preceding Passover. This piyyut, which begins with the words, "Lord of the spirit of all flesh," essentially sums up the main halakhic rules concerning preparation for Passover and therefore was recited as part of the prayers, to review the laws of Passover for the common people.
One line says, "Kunya u-fahra af al gav de-maflit leho shafir, le-ishtemushei beho asira." Kunya and fahra refer to earthen cookware, and even though by immersing in boiling water they are considered to release most of the forbidden substance with which they have come in contact, and we boil them prior to the time that hametz becomes forbidden, and by the general rules concerning forbidden and permitted things there is room to permit their use on Passover, nevertheless the halakhah rules that they are not to be used, just as vessels that came into contact with a sin offering are not to be used, as the Torah commands us in this week's reading: "an earthen vessel in which it was boiled shall be broken."

Thus we see that the basis for the laws of kashering dishes for Passover is learned from the laws for kashering the vessels used in the sin offering, and therefore it is fitting and proper to read Parashat Tzav before Passover. Indeed, this parashah has found its natural place between Purim and Passover, the thirty days in which one traditionally studies the laws concerning the festival.
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