May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h, and Meira Chaya Nechama Beracha, a”h, bat Reb David Mordechai Fishel, sheyichye.
This week we learned Chullin 101. These are some highlights.
Should we violate Yom Kippur when the government is demanding that we not keep Yom Kippur?
Our Gemara contains a surprising ruling that unfortunately became practical law during the years of rage, the Holocaust.
The Gemara states that if it would be Yom Kippur on Shabbos and a person mistakenly violated the day, he would only have to bring a single sin offering. This is difficult. We have a rule that a prohibition cannot take effect upon a pre-existing prohibition, ein issur chal al issur. However two prohibitions can take effect simultaneously. Yom Kippur and Shabbos both begin with sundown. These prohibitions should be able to take effect simultaneously, and the person who mistakenly violates the day should have to bring two sin offerings as atonement. Why was the ruling that he was only obligated to bring a single sacrifice? Rava answered that our Gemara was discussing a time of persecution. Rashi (s.v. Shmada hava) explains that the gentile rulers had decreed that the Jews not observe Yom Kippur. Due to the danger in resisting them, no Jews are to fast or abstain from work on the 10th of Tishrei. In order not to forget the concept of a Yom Kippur, the rabbis had instructed the people to observe Yom Kippur on the Shabbos closest to the 10th of Tishrei. On Shabbos the Jews were refraining from work and the gentiles would not realize that they were also refraining from eating. This was the date on which were a person to violate the laws of Yom Kippur he would only bring a single sacrifice, for the day was not really Yom Kippur, it was really only Shabbos.
This Gemara seems to state that when it is a time of danger and there are decrees against the observance of Yom Kippur we are to eat on Yom Kippur in order to save our lives, and on another day observe a mock Yom Kippur so as to maintain our religious knowledge. During the Holocaust, observance of Yom Kippur entailed great danger to lives. Many rabbis relied on our Gemara and ruled that the Jews should violate Yom Kippur in order to preserve their lives.
Our Gemara’s ruling is surprising for it seems to conflict with a Gemara in Sanhedrin (74a). Gemara Sanhedrin teaches that generally if a gentile threatens a Jew’s life and demands that the Jew perform a sin or else die, the Jew is to perform the sin and not die because of the Torah (Vayikra 18:5) mandate “Vachai bahem velo sheyamut bahem, And he is to live through them and not die from them.” Mitzvot should lead to life and they should not lead to death. However, if the Gentile demands that the Jew worship idols, commit adultery, or murder another Jew one must die and not perform the sin. Rav Yochanan added that during eras of persecution, when gentile rulers are fighting the Jewish faith, one must die to avoid violating even a light mitzvah, such as changing from Jewish shoelaces to gentile footwear. If so, how could our Gemara teach that in a time of persecution the Jews did not observe Yom Kippur? If it was a time of persecution they should have risked their lives in order to observe Yom Kippur, just as one must give up his life and not change a shoelace in times of shmad.
Mishneh Sachir suggests an answer in the name of Rav Avraham Grodzinsky. Rav Grodzinsky suggests that if gentiles demand that people violate a law, we have to resist. If the gentile were to state, “You must eat on Yom Kippur, or you must work on Yom Kippur,” he would be targeting a command of Hashem and we would have to refuse his order and willingly die to sanctify the name of Heaven. However, if a gentile were to say, “You may not make a day into Yom Kippur” he is not directly targeting a religious prohibition. He is creating a reality in which our lives will be in danger if we would avoid eating or working on the day. When our lives are in danger we are allowed to violate mitzvot in order to live due to the mandate of “Vachai bahem.” Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 157:1) rules that one must give up life to avoid performing a violation; however, one need not die in order to fulfill a positive mitzvah. Even in times of religious persecution, if a gentile were to tell the Jew, “I will kill you if you make Kiddush,” the Jew should not make Kiddush. If the gentile said, “Perform a sin or I kill you,” the Jew must allow himself to die before he actively performs a sin. But if the gentile is demanding that the Jew not fulfill a positive mitzvah, the Jew should be passive and not fulfill the mitzvah. The law of religious persecution is not that in times of religious persecution we must die to resist the gentiles. This law is that we must refuse their orders to perform acts of sin when they are seeking to remove us from our faith. This law only applies when they directly order an act of sin. If they order that we may not have a day of Yom Kippur, they are not directly ordering an act of sin. Since we cannot have a Yom Kippur, were we to fast on the day or refrain from work they would be upset and would kill us. Their laws end up causing us to work and eat on the day. However, they did not directly demand that we violate Yom Kippur with work or eating. They demanded that we not have a day of Yom Kippur. A Jew is then mandated to give up on Yom Kippur, just as he would give up on Kiddush on Friday night.
The Tashbetz (Cheilek Bet Siman 271 s.v. Ve’achar she’alah) writes explicitly that those who are in places of religious persecution are exempted because of the coercive circumstances from fasting on Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av and all the mitzvot of the Torah. Commentators find his words shocking. Sanhedrin (74a) states the opposite. In times of religious persecution a Jew must die even for his shoelaces; certainly he should not be eating on Yom Kippur. What does Tashbetz mean when he says that a Jew undergoing religious persecution is exempt from all the mitzvot of the Torah?
Mishneh Sachir suggests that the Tashbetz is agreeing with the Rama. The Jew facing religious persecution is exempt from all the positive directives of the Torah. He is also exempted from fasting on Yom Kippur due to the rationale advanced by Rabbi Grodzinsky. The gentiles did not explicitly direct the Jew to perform an act of sin. They made a decree that Jews cannot create days of atonement. The decree of the gentiles results in danger for Jews who fast on Yom Kippur. Jews in the face of danger are obligated to preserve their lives. Sanhedrin (74a) only refers to gentiles who explicitly direct us to perform a particular act of sin. When they seek to pressure us to perform an act of sin we are obligated to give our lives and resist. However, if as a result of their decree there is danger and that danger can be alleviated by performing a sin, we are to perform the sins in order to save our lives. Many rabbis relied on the words of the Tashbetz during the war years, and since the Nazis were not directly addressing acts of sin but were generally demanding that we not have a day of atonement, rabbis instructed Jews to eat on Yom Kippur. (Mesivta).
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.