SALT - Friday, 23 Tammuz 5776 - July 29, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

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This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
Thursday 22 Tamuz, July 28
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            Yesterday, we noted the famous question posed by the Ramban (Bamidbar 31:23) as to why the guidelines for kashering utensils obtained from non-Jews were first given only after Benei Yisrael’s war with Midyan.  Already earlier, after their conquest of the territory of the kingdoms of Sichon and Og, Benei Yisrael presumably took possession of the defeated nation’s utensils, and were thus required to perform kashering.  Yet, these laws were not given until after the soldiers returned from the battle against Midyan with the Midyanites’ utensils.  The Ramban answered that the war against Sichon and Og had the status of kibbush ha-aretz – capturing the Land of Israel – which is subject to special rules, including the permissibility of the indigenous population’s non-kosher food.  As such, the laws of kashering were not relevant after that war.  As we saw, however, some later writers noted that, according to the simple reading of the Gemara (Avoda Zara 75b), after the war against Midyan, Benei Yisrael were presented with not only the laws of kashering, but also the requirement of tevilat keilim – immersing utensils obtained from gentiles.  This obligation is not dependent upon the presence of non-kosher food particles or taste in the utensil; it applies regardless of whether or not the utensil had been used with non-kosher food.  As such, the Ramban’s answer is not relevant to tevilat keilim.  Why, then, was this requirement introduced only now, and not after the war against the kingdoms of Sichon and Og?

            Yesterday, we saw an answer cited by Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, in his Har Tzevi (Y.D. 109), explaining that in the war against Sichon and Og, the entire populations were killed, such that their property was left ownerless.  Hence, the food utensils did not transfer directly from gentile ownership to Israelite ownership, and for this reason, they did not require immersion.

            Rav Tzvi Pesach mentioned this theory in reference to the question that arose after Israel’s War of Independence concerning utensils left behind by Arabs who fled from their homes during the war.  These utensils certainly required kashering, but it was uncertain whether they also required immersion.  Rav Tzvi Pesach noted that according to the theory mentioned above (which he cited from the Keli Chemda), these utensils would likely not require immersion.  Since they had been abandoned, they were implicitly declared ownerless before they were seized by the Israelis.  Therefore, they came into Jewish possession not directly from gentile possession, but rather from an interim state of ownerlessness.  As such, according to the theory presented above, these utensils would not require immersion.

            Rav Tzvi Pesach, however, was reluctant to rely on this line of reasoning without further evidence.  He claimed that more clear-cut proof is needed to establish that a utensil left ownerless by a gentile and subsequently obtained by a Jew does not require immersion.  As for the question regarding the utensils seized from the kingdoms of Sichon and Og, Rav Tzvi Pesach offered a much different answer, asserting that we should not ask why God chose to present any given mitzva at one point in time and not at another time.  Rav Tzvi Pesach writes that these kinds of questions fall under the category of “ha-nistarot le-Hashem Elokeinu” (Devarim 29:28) – divine wisdom which we cannot access.  Just as, for example, some mitzvot were commanded before Matan Torah, at the time when Benei Yisrael encamped in Mara (Shemot 15:25), similarly, God decided that some mitzvot should be issued on certain occasions, and other mitzvot at different times.  The Ramban posed his question concerning the utensils of the Midyan because the requirement of kashering constitutes not a separate halakhic obligation, but rather the means of avoiding the prohibition of eating non-kosher food.  God had already presented the laws concerning kashrut earlier, in Sefer Vayikra (11).  Thus, the laws of kashering should have, seemingly, been presented after Benei Yisrael seized the possessions of the nations of Sichon and Og, so they would know how to use those utensils without violating the dietary code they had received many years earlier.  This is why the Ramban raised the question of why the laws of kashering were presented only later, after the war with Midyan.  Tevilat keilim, however, constitutes a separate obligation that has nothing at all to do with the laws of forbidden foods, and therefore there is no purpose in asking why it was presented at one point and not at another point.