Navigating the Challenges: Shemita 5782

For over
nineteen hundred years, the Jewish people have longed to return to Eretz Yisroel.
It is only in Eretz Yisroel that we can realize our full potential as a nation.
It is only in Eretz Yisroel that the Torah’s blueprint for life can be
completely fulfilled.

For the
millennia, the most important dimension of this longing was the yearning to
once again be able to fulfill the mitzvos hatluyos ba’aretz (agricultural
laws), the commandments that can be observed only in Eretz Yisroel. With Hashem’s
help, many of us in this past generation have realized part of this two
thousand year old dream. Yet, this realization has presented us with new
challenges.

Without a
doubt, one of the greatest mitzvah challenges of all times is the fulfillment
of the mitzvah of Shemita, the year of Sabbatical rest for the Land of
Israel. The Midrash perceives this multifaceted commandment as being so
challenging and difficult that he who meets the challenge of Shemita in
all its details […]

Kosher Consumer Misconsumptions

STAR-K’s
consumer Kosher Hotline is constantly abuzz with kashrus inquiries. Close to
5000 consumer calls were logged between Purim and Pesach 5781 alone. Questions
range from product information to complex kitchen shailos, from reliable
kosher airline caterers to wines whose kosher certification symbols are so
small you need a high-powered magnifying glass to read the rav hamachshir’s
name.

Even
with all the available information, consumers still get confused or make incorrect
assumptions that could lead to severe halachic consequences. The following
examples of kosher consumer misconceptions are based on real Kosher Hotline
inquiries. Hopefully, this article will help clarify some common errors.

Misconception 1: Putting an oven into Sabbath Mode allows
one to cook on Shabbos.

Chas v’shalom! The Sabbath Mode does not allow one to cook on Shabbos. The
Sabbath Mode makes a modern oven halachically compliant so that it may be used on
Shabbos and Yom Tov. The purpose of the Sabbath Mode was to address new
technological and computerized features that have created issues […]

Optical ‘Allusions’: Avoiding Maris Ayin

Making a Good Impression

The kohen tasked with removing funds from the treasury of
the Bais Hamikdash needed to go to great lengths to avoid any suspicion of
stealing: he could not wear hemmed clothing, or even tefillin, lest he hide a
coin in them. He was required to speak the entire time so that he could not hide
any coins in his mouth. When he exited the treasury, his hair was combed to
ensure that he did not squirrel away any money in his curls! The Mishnah
explains that these measures were necessary, as there is a Torah obligation to
avoid suspicion: “…v’hiyisem neki’im meHashem u’meYisroel, … and you
shall be innocent before Hashem and before Israel.”[1]

Activities that give an impression of transgressing Halacha must
be avoided, even if they are intrinsically permitted. This area of Halacha is
known as maris ayin and chashad, the appearance of transgressing
an issur.[2]
Interestingly, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, writes that this only extends
to […]

Delivery and Ride Apps – Halachically App-roved?

With the advent of the latest apps, a
whole new world of halachic scenarios has arisen.[1] These
include shailos about using food delivery services, working
for a food delivery or ride app, and even calling and using a ride service. These
various situations will be addressed here.[2]

Ordering from Meal Delivery Apps

Meal delivery apps like Uber Eats,
Grubhub, DoorDash and Postmates have seen tremendous growth over the last few
years. For our discussion, we will use Uber Eats as our example, but the concerns
raised apply to the comparable apps.

A customer orders from a restaurant that
has contracted with Uber Eats. When it is ready, an Uber Eats driver picks it
up from the restaurant and delivers it to the customer. Here are some points to
consider when ordering from a kosher restaurant:

Is the food properly sealed?

Delivered food must be properly sealed.[3]  Many restaurants do not seal take-out food, unless the restaurant itself
arranges the delivery or sealing is […]

A Traveler’s Guide to Tefilas Haderech

During the past year and a half, STAR-K mashgichim
continued to conduct inspections in the United States and abroad in a manner
deemed safe for them and factory personnel. STAR-K is very thankful for their
tremendous mesiras nefesh to ensure that our certified products maintained
the highest level of kashrus, even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Still,
many consumers who frequently travel stayed home. With great siyata d’Shmaya,
an effective vaccine was developed that has allowed us to resume our busy
travel schedules and to once again recite Tefilas Haderech on a regular
basis. Let us examine the halachos of this beautiful tefilla.[1]

The Tefilla

Tefilas Haderech is based on the Gemara in Brachos (29b-30a), with some minor variations, depending upon one’s nusach.  The Gemara says it is recited in loshon rabim (plural; e.g., shetolicheinu, etc.).[2]  When returning the same the day, the words v’sachzireinu l’shalom are added after l’chaim, ul’simcha, ul’shalom.[3]

The bracha is […]

Insights from the Institute: Stable Manners: The Basics of Tzaar Baalei Chayim

The prohibition to gratuitously cause pain to an animal is known as tzaar baalei chayim. The Gemara presents a debate as to whether this is a Torah or a Rabbinic obligation.1 Most Rishonim pasken that it is forbidden mideoraissa,2 although some Rishonim pasken that it only prohibited midrabonon.3 The Nimukei Yosef suggests that the Torah forbids one to cause an animal significant pain, and the rabonnon extended this and forbade causing less substantial pain as well.4

There is some uncertainty as to the view of the Rambam. The Kesef Mishna states that the Rambam considers tzaar baalei chayim to be a Torah command,5 whereas the Ohr Sameach opines that the Rambam regards it to be a Rabbinic prohibition.6 The Netziv offers a unique resolution of the Rambam’s position. He suggests that the Rambam paskens that it is asur mideoraissa to cause […]

הנה לא ינום ולא ישן שומר חלב ישראל The Chaliva Mashgiach Neither Slumbers nor Sleeps!

10:00 AM, 6:00 PM, 2:00 AM, 10:00 AM, 6:00 PM, 2:00 AM – a virtual ‘dairy-go-round’ on an actual carousel for 1700 satisfied participants, seven days a week, 365 days a year. This scenario bears no resemblance to my Mother’s, ע”ה, family cow that she milked in the shtetl about 90 years ago. What do both scenarios have in common? Both produce Cholov Yisroel milk but, oh, how times have changed! There is so much more that must meet the keen eye of a contemporary Cholov Yisroel mashgiach.

When I grew up in Washington, D.C., Cholov Yisroel was a totally unknown term, an unknown entity, and certainly an unknown milk bottle in the refrigerator. But times have changed. Today, Cholov Yisroel is a burgeoning industry, ranging from ice cream novelties to energy bars. However, some things never change. Whether you are milking the […]

On The Tip of Your Tongue

“If there is any doubt, ask!” is a mantra that behooves any pulpit rabbi to convey to his kehila regarding kitchen mix-up issues. This is especially true concerning those shailos that involve the erroneous use of uncertified products whose only kashrus concern is that it contains mysterious “natural and artificial flavors”. However, all too often the food is thrown into the garbage before a shaila is asked. Surprising to most, when consumers in this predicament call into the STAR-K hotline, more often than not we can be the bearer of good news.

Before I delve into why, let me share a watershed story that will carry us to the essence of the matter

Where Is The Beef?

In April, 2001, a high profile article entitled, “Where’s the Beef? It Is In Your Fries!” appeared in India West, a popular newspaper and internet site for the North American Indian […]

Dessert: A Real Bracha!

You are at a חתונה and all of a sudden they roll in the Viennese tables full of cakes, chocolates, ice cream, melons and bread. You are not sure whether or not you should recite a ברכה ראשונה over any of these desserts. The question is equally applicable in your own home whether on Shabbos or any given day of the week: Do I or don’t I need to recite a ברכה over dessert?

The Shulchan Aruch1 states that when one eats bread, all foods which are eaten together with the bread are פטור (exempt) from a ברכה because they are secondary to the bread. Therefore, the ברכה recited over the bread covers any other food that is eaten, as well.

On the other hand, since a dessert is eaten to end the meal with a sweet taste, it is entirely different since the intention is not to eat it as […]

A Matter of Public Interest

“Oh, you need a loan to buy a new car? Check out Penn-Atlantic Credit Union. They’re practically giving money away!”

With interest rates of less than half of what is typically offered by a conventional bank, credit unions are a practical and popular choice for many consumers. Credit unions can give these low rates because they are non-profit and cooperatively owned. In order to borrow from a credit union, you must first be a member; every member is a partial owner, with both a financial stake and a vote in how it is run. This arrangement, however, presents a serious halachic concern: ribbis, the Torah prohibition against borrowing and lending of money with interest.

In truth, there is a similar ribbis concern in many bank loans. Mutual savings banks are structured similarly to credit unions; each depositor is a partial owner. The bank essentially acts as a shadchan between the many owners […]

Navigating the Pizza Paradox: Pas or Pas Nisht

If you ask any out-of-town kiruv professional involved in outreach, “What are the two most important community ‘must-haves’ needed to attract baalei teshuvah or create growth in a particular Jewish community?”, nine times out of ten the answer you will get is 1) an eruv and 2) a kosher pizza shop! I can bear witness to this fact. At the beginning of my tenure as executive director of the Vaad Hoer of St. Louis 35 years ago, I sent out a questionnaire to the frum kehilos and the community at large asking what they think would enhance the St. Louis frum community. Believe it or not, the overwhelming response was a kosher pizza shop. Soon thereafter, a kosher pizza shop opened. Subsequently, two community eruvim were also built.

Similarly, over 40 years ago in my shul in Birmingham, Alabama, where the community was too small to support either a kosher pizza […]