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Daily Moroccan Halachot

Rabbi Mordechai Lebhar, author Magen Avot
Redacted by Dr. Emile Amzallag


Daily Halachot Topics

Birkat Kohanim on Fast Days

      Birkat Kohanim on Fast Days

May One Light the Menora Indoors?

The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 671:5) says that the Menora should be placed on the outside of the entrance of one’s home which faces the public domain. This is based on the Gemara’s (Shabbat 21b) explanation that placing the Menora in such a location allows outsiders to see it and therefore, the there is greater publicizing of the miracle of Hanukka. Indeed this is the common practice nowadays in Israel. The Shulhan Aruch continues and says that in times of danger, such as those which were common in the days of the Gemara, it is sufficient to place the Menora indoors on one’s table.

The salient question is whether or not those living in the diaspora are considered to be in danger and would therefore be exempt from placing the Menora at the entrance. Rabbi Yehoshua Ehrenberg (Shu”t Dvar Yehoshua vol. 1, § 40) writes that once our Sages established that there is a special dispensation for those in danger, this leniency still applies regardless of whether danger is imminent or not, even in Israel. Rav Ovadia agreed with this opinion but in recent years advocated that at a minimum, the Menora should be placed by a window.Therefore, according to this opinion one would be able to light indoors. Other rabbis say that if there is no danger, then the Halacha would revert to the original enactment of lighting at one’s entrance. It appears that the common practice nowadays is to light indoors and if the neighborhood is safe, then people typically place the Menora by a window so as to publicize the miracle. Evidently,  there are other considerations as well, such a weather conditions and the risk of the Menora being stolen.
Summary:   Although strictly speaking, the Menora should be placed by the entrance, the common practice in the diaspora is to place it indoors, near a window. 


What Comes First, Arvit or Hanukkah Lighting?

According to the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 672:1), one should light the Hanukkah candles at the end of sunset, which practically speaking, is Tzet HaKochavim. Furthermore, the ideal lighting time extends for thirty minutes starting at Tzet HaKochavim. Rabbi David Ovadia (Nahagu Ha’am) and Rabbi Raphael Ankawa (Pa’amone Zahav) write that the Moroccan custom is to first pray Arvit and then to light the candles. Furthermore, they explain that it is preferable to advance the Arvit prayer so that the candles may be lit at their ideal time, rather than praying Arvit at its regular time and missing the thirty-minute window after Tzet HaKochavim for candle lighting. Interestingly, the Jews in Morocco would use the Maghreb call to prayer (Maghreb is the Muslim prayer which takes place around Ben HaShemashot) as a guideline of the approaching Hannukah lighting time.

Additionally, there is a principle of “Tadir VeShe’eno Tadir, Tadir Kodem”, which means that if one must perform two Mitzvot, the Mitzva that occurs more frequently should be done first. Since Arvit is recited every night of the year, it should be recited first, and then the less frequent Mitzva of Hanukkah should follow. Regarding this principle, the HIDA (Mahzik Beracha) says that if one would need to pray Arvit later so that the candles could be lit at their proper time, then one should do so, even though Arvit is a more frequent Mitzva. Conversely, if Arvit is recited early enough that one will be able to light the candles on time, then this is ideal.

Summary:  The custom is to first pray Arvit and then light the Hanukkah candles. If one will miss the thirty-minute window after Tzet HaKochavim because of Arvit, it is preferable to pray after lighting.

Electric Lights on Hanukkah?

The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) says that all wicks and oils are valid for Hanukkah. Rabbi Yosef Messas (Shu”t Mayim Haim § 249), basing himself on the aforementioned Gemara, rules that an electric bulb is also permissible for use as a candle. Just like any other Hanukkah, the bulb’s filament is akin to a wick and produces a bright light. The Maharal (Ner Mitzvah, vol. 2, s.v. “Amar Rabbi Yehuda”) rules that the Hanukkah lights must be similar to those that were used in the Bet HaMikdash, namely oil and standard wicks, and therefore Rav Ovadia Yosef (Hazon Ovadia, pg. 96) disputes Rav Messas’ assertion that electric bulbs would be permissible. Another issue raised by the rabbis is that an electric light produces light indirectly (turning on a switch, causing a current to flow and then lighting the filament), whereas the Mitzvah of Hanukkah should be done by direct kindling.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shalme Moed, pg. 200) and Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv (Kovetz Teshuvot,  vol. 3, § 103) both rule that if someone does not have access to conventional oils or candles for Hanukkah, one may use and even make a blessing over an incandescent bulb (LED bulbs are invalid). Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul adds that a battery in a battery-operated electric light fulfils the requirement of oil.

Summary: An electric incandescent light may be used for Hanukkah in a situation of great need, preferably without a blessing. ​


      electric lights on chanukah


May One Visit a Cemetery in Nissan?

The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 429:2) writes that during the month of Nissan, one does not recite Tahanun, “Tzidkatecha” or eulogies and public fasts are not announced, as the month has a joyous character.

Regarding visiting cemeteries during Nissan, there appears to have been two customs in Morocco. Rabbi Shalom Messas (Shemesh Umagen, vol. IV, Orah Haim, § 66) writes that there was a custom to visit cemeteries where people would recite Tehillim and hold Seudot Mitzvah in memory of the departed, many communities would even visit cemeteries during Hol HaMoed since it would bring spiritual satisfaction to the departed (particularly in the city of Rabat).

On the other hand, Rabbi Yosef Messas (Mayim Haim, vol. II, § 132) writes that there were communities, in which people would not visit cemeteries during Nissan, and so was the custom in Fes. This is based on the Arizal (Sha’ar Hakavnot, Sha’ar Ruah Hakodesh), that one should not visit cemeteries during Nissan.   However, many would still visit the grave site of a prominent rabbi.[c.f Ben Ish Hai (Parashat Vayeshev) who writes that although one should not visit a cemetery on the anniversary of the passing of a relative should it fall on Hanukkah, Purim etc., there was a custom in Baghdad to visit the graves of prominent rabbis even if it fell on those days].

During the first two weeks of Nissan, there is also a custom to recite Parashat HaNesi’im (Bamidbar 7:1-89) in commemoration of the Mishkan, which was inaugurated in Nissan. Additionally, the Rama (Orah Haim 429:1) writes that there is a custom to provide wheat to the needy so that they may bake their Matza. Nowadays it is more practical to give Ma’ot Hitim, that is, money to the poor for their Pesah needs. Since there is no obligation to donate money for Ma’ot Hitim, one may use one’s Ma’aser money for it.

Summary: If one has a custom to visit cemeteries during Nissan, one may do so. One may visit the grave site of a prominent rabbi during Nissan. It is a worthy Mitzvah to donate Ma’ot Hitim funds to the poor to provide for them for Pesah.



Reciting Birkat Hamzaon Over a Cup of Wine

Given Birkat Hamazon’s importance among blessings, the Gemara (Pesahim 105a) discusses whether warrants being recited over a cup of wine. To clarify, this refers to the practice of filling up a cup of wine before reciting Birkat Hamazon and then reciting “Bore Peri Hagefen” once Birkat Hamazonis completed. The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 182:1) lists three opinions based on the Gemara’s discussion: i) Birkat Hamazon must always be recited over a cup of wine, even by an in individual, ii) a cup of wine is only used when there are three or more participants in the Zimun and iii) a cup of wine is never required for Birkat Hamazon. It appears that the Shulhan Aruch leans towards the third approach, although the Rama (ibid.) writes that the optimal way to fulfill the Mitzvah of Birkat Hamazon is over wine.

The Aruch HaShulchan (Orah Haim 182:1) explains that the widespread practice of not reciting Birkat Hamazon over wine is due to the high cost of wine, especially in those days. As such, one could reason that since wine is relatively affordable, one should recite Birkat Hamazon over wine. Nevertheless, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, vol. 2, Yore Deah, § 52:3) writes that since nowadays people are accustomed to not using a cup of wine, one need not be strict in this regard, even in a Birkat Hamazon that involves many participants. Siddur Avotenu as well as numerous Moroccan rabbis write that the custom was to only use a cup of wine during Sheva Berachot, but not in other instances. Furthermore, Rabbi Shalom Messas (Shemesh Umagen, vol. 2, Yore Deah § 29) says that even at Sheva Berachot it was not common for Birkat Hamazon to be recited over wine, and this appears to be the custom.

The Kaf HaHaim (O.H. 182:1) writes that based on Kabbalah, one should be strict and recite Birkat Hamazon. Although a worthy stringency, this is not a requirement. Indeed if one does use a cup of wine, one should say that one is doing so “Bli Neder”, lest such a practice take on the status of an oath and one be Halachically obligated to continuing doing so.

Summary:  The Moroccan custom is that Birkat Hamazon is not recited over a cup of wine.


      al hamihya with al hagefen

What Qualifies as Hamar Medina?

The Gemara (Pesahim 107a) discusses alternative beverages for wine, known as Hamar Medina, (lit. “wine of the province”), which are considered distinguished enough to replace wine should there be none available. When discussing the cup of wine used for Birkat Hamazon, the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 182:2) rules that Hamar Medina may be used if wine is not readily available in a particular locale, as long as it is not water. This would also apply to Kiddush on Shabbat or a holiday, or for Havdala. The Rama (ibid.) adds that it is therefore acceptable to use beer in the place of wine since it too has some level of importance as a beverage.

Since wine is readily available nowadays, there are those rabbis who say that one may not rely on Hamar Medina for Kiddush and the like. Other counter that since wine is not necessarily a common item in many people’s homes, it could be considered as not being readily available and therefore one may use a non-wine substitute. Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul (Or LeZion, vol. 2, § 20:19) says that the characteristic that renders a drink important enough to be considered Hamar Medina is that it has undergone alcoholic fermentation. Furthermore, the beverage has to be commonly found in that particular locale. As such, beer and Arak, for example, would be appropriate to use as Hamar Medina.

Other drinks have a questionable status regarding Hamar Medina. Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul understood that whiskey was not commonly consumed in Israel, so may not be fit for replacing wine. It appears to be more common in other countries and indeed some Poskim do consider whiskey acceptable. Even so, Arak or whiskey may not be a good idea to use for Kiddush, etc., since one should preferably drink the requisite Revi’it amount, which may be challenging. Some Poskim say that coffee or even freshly squeezed orange juice may be considered Hamar Medina, but these are not clear cut choices. Milk is mostly consumed for health purposes while fruit juices contain mostly water and as such neither are generally regarded as being distinguished enough to be Hamar Medina.

Summary:   If one cannot use wine for KiddushHavdala or Birkat Hamazon, one should preferably use beer or Arak. All other beverages are questionable.



Decorum While Reciting a Blessing

The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 183:9) rules that one must sit down with a sense of reverence to recite Birkat Hamazon, even if one was previously standing or walking. Furthermore, it says (ibid:12) that one is forbidden from performing any acts of labor while reciting Birkat Hamazon. The Mishna Berura (O.H. 183:37), citing another Halacha in the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 191:3), clarifies that one must stop what one is doing while reciting not only Birkat Hamazon, but rather for all blessings.

The Ben Ish Hai  (Year A, Parashat Hukat, § 8) says that one should not only refrain from outright acts of labor, such as cutting wood and the like, but even seemingly benign acts, as it shows a lack of reverence for the blessing being recited. Examples of such acts given by the Ben Ish Hai include drying one’s hands, putting on clothing, waving or hinting with one’s eyes or lips. The Taz (O.H. 191) says that one should not even engage in Torah study, such as contemplating a Torah thought or looking in a book, while reciting a blessing. Interestingly, Rabbi Yosef Haim Sonnenfeld (Shu”t Salmat Haim, § 155) permits folding of one’s Talit during the Shir Shel Yom or later parts of the prayer.

Parenthetically, in light of the aforementioned Halacha, one may question the Shulhan Aruch’s (Orah Haim 63:7) ruling that one must stop one’s work to recite the first paragraph of Keriat Shema, but may continue working while reciting the second and third paragraphs. The Pri Megadim (Mishbetzot Zahav, § 63:1) explains that the essence of the Mitzvah of Keriat Shema is contained in the first paragraph, while the last two paragraphs have more of a status of Torah study. Performing labor is permitted while learning Torah and this explains the leniency regarding workers who may continue to work while reciting the second and third paragraphs of the Shema.

Summary: One should not be involved in any other acts while reciting a blessing.

The Importance of Birkat HaOre’ah

The Gemara (Berachot 46a) discusses the importance of a guest reciting Birkat HaOre’ah, a special prayer in Birkat Hamazon for one’s host when eating at the latter’s home, and this is codified in the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 201:1). The Shulhan Aruch goes on to state that this prayer is so important that the guest should be the one to recite Birkat Hamazon on everyone’s behalf so that he or she may recite the Birkat HaOre’ah. In previous generations, one person would recite it on behalf of the participants of the meal, and they would fulfill their obligation by listening. Nevertheless, even nowadays when Birkat Hamazon is recited individually by participants of a meal, the Mishna Berura (O.H. 201:4) it is preferable for the guest to lead the Zimun.

Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul (Or LeZion, vol. II, ch.46, § 33) writes that Yeshiva students should recite Birkat HaOre’ah during Birkat Hamazon and have in mind those people who donated money towards the meals. One can also apply this opinion to congregants who eat Seuda Shelishit or breakfast, etc. at synagogue, and have in mind the sponsors of the meal. Furthermore, if one does not understand or has a hard time reading Birkat HaOre’ah, one is permitted to recite it in one’s own language. Birkat HaOre’ah is merely an appended prayer and is not a formal part of the actual Birkat Hamazon, and as such, although reciting it in the language of our Sages is ideal, one is certainly allowed to recite in one’s own language.
It should be noted that the wording of Birkat HaOre’ah found in authentic Moroccan books is slightly different from that found in the Gemara, but for all intents and purposes, the overarching theme is identical.

Summary:   There is special importance to reciting Birkat HaOre’ah.

Etrog Jam & Orange Juice: Berachot

The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 202:12) rules that the blessing over a fruit which is customarily eaten both raw and cooked, such as an apple, is “Bore Peri Ha’Etz” in both states. If the fruit is normally eaten only when cooked, the Shulhan Aruch continues, one would recite “Shehakol” if eaten raw, and “Ha’Etz” is eaten cooked. Finally, if the fruit is normally only eaten raw, such as grapes, its blessing would be relegated to “Bore Peri Ha’Adama” in the cooked state.
This Halacha is pertinent to the practice of cooking the Etrogim used during Sukkot in order to make jam. Rabbi Shalom Messas (Shemesh Umagen, vol. III, § 89:5) and Rabbi Baruch Toledano (Kitzur Shulhan Aruch, § 199:24) both rule that, despite a disagreement among rabbis, the Moroccan custom is to recite “Bore Peri Ha’Etz” over Etrog jam. Although the Etrog is broken down and mixed with sugar, the resultant jam contains noticeable pieces of Etrog which retain their form, and therefore would retain its original blessing. Even if there are no visible pieces, the blessing is still “Ha’Etz” as this is the conventional way of consuming an Etrog.

Additionally, the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 205:2) writes that the blessing over water in which vegetables are cooked is the same blessing as the vegetable. For example, one who cooks lentils to make soup but wishes to only drink the broth, would recite “Bore Peri Ha’Adama”. Even though a previous DailyHalacha discussed the blessing changing to “Shehakol” when a vegetable’s form is altered, in this case, the water retains the taste of the vegetable and is thus an extension of the vegetable. This stands in contrast to fruit which are expressly squeezed for their juice, such as apple juice, in which case the blessing would be “Shehakol”. The exceptions to this latter rule are grapes and olives, whose juices the Torah attributes the special names “Tirosh” and “Yitzhar”, respectively. As such, the blessing over grape juice (and wine) is not “Shehakol”, but is rather elevated to “Bore Peri HaGefen”. Similarly, olive oil, if rendered palatable, would not be relegated to “Shehakol”, but would remain “Bore Peri Ha’Etz”.

One area of doubt is orange juice. On one hand, it is primarily consumed as a drink and the juice is certainly an extension of the fruit. Therefore, an argument could be made to recite “Ha’Etz”. On the other hand, oranges do not have the special status of Tirosh or Yitzhar, and therefore its juice should be similar to apples, etc. and have a blessing of “Shehakol”. Practically speaking, one should recite “Shehakol” on orange juice as there is doubt to its blessing. Interestingly, one practical implication of this is if one were to consume an apple, followed by some orange juice. Some opinions posit that, even though on its own orange juice is “Shehakol”, it could be exempted by the “Ha’Etz” that was recited on the apple that preceded it. In such a case, however, it is preferable to first recite “Shehakol” and drink the orange juice, and to make a separate blessing of “Ha’Etz” over the apple.

Summary:  The blessing over Etrog jam is “Ha’Etz”. The blessing over vegetable broth is “Ha’Adama”. The blessing over orange juice is “Shehakol”. Please read above for the Halachic details.


      Etrog Jam

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