by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Some say that it is the most coveted spot for a full page ad to appear. You always want the ad to appear on the right side not the left, as people’s eyes naturally gravitate to the right. Also, you want it near the front of the paper, but not at the very beginning – because people rush to see what is happening. The third page in – is perfect – page seven.
Regardless, there it was, in all of it’s glorious controversy, located on page seven of one of New York’s fastest growing newspapers. It was a Sukkah made up of Gourmet Glatt boxes. Glorious controversy, you ask? Yes – controversy, a halachic debate that has been raging for centuries – possibly even longer.
Has the author finally gone stark raving mad? Why, corrugated boxes were not even invented until 1871! How could the debate have been raging for centuries?
The issue is not cardboard boxes – it is the opening and closing of the Sukkah door where words and letters are constantly being formed and unformed – also known as the malachos of kosaiv and mochaik. Is it permitted to do on Shabbos and Yom Tov? The issue applies to the opening and closing of doors shuls and Batei Midrashim with writing on them. It applies to library books with the name of the library stamped on the top edge or head of the book. It applies to pictures of significance. Can we open them or can’t we? And why or why not?
THE REASON WHY WE HAVE THAT CHOCOLATE BAR ON THE CAKE
In our quest to find the various opinions behind this controversial Sukkah, we turn first to a Ramah’s comments in Shulchan Aruch OC 340:3. It is there where we find Rav Moshe Isserles (1530-1572) citing the Mordechai (ben Hillel HaKohain 1250-1298) who prohibits cutting a cake with letters written on it [where the writing is from a different substance] because of the prohibition of erasing. It is this famous Ramah which has caused our local Vaad HaKashrus to forbid our local bakeries from writing on birthday cakes – unless the letters are formed on a bittersweet bar of chocolate. Two factors that help cause the leniency are that a] the person does not intend to erase or write (aino miskavain) and that it is not a benefit to him that he would want it (naicha lay).
CAKES VERSUS BOOKS
It is interesting to note that the Ramah forbids the cutting of writing on cake in his comments to the Shulchan Aruch, but in a responsa (#119)– he permits the opening and closing of books and trunks or boxes with writing on them. Cakes are forbidden – but books and boxes are permitted Why the leniency in the latter case? The answer is that they are made to open and close – just like in the case of building and destroying (binyan and stirah) – since the door is made to be opened and closed there is no prohibition of binyan and stirah. Thus, we can likewise be lenient in regard to the prohibitions of writing and erasing.
The analogy to binyan and stirah, however, is questioned by many authorities and is fully expressed by Rav Avrohom Yishayahu Karelitz (1878-1953) in his Sefer Chazon Ish (OC 61:1). Essentially, since when do we compare one type of malacha to one of the other types? They are entirely separate malachos!
Both the author of the Levush and the Mogain Avrohom forbid it.
Other Acharonim provide a different reason as to why it would be permitted to open a book, box or door. Rabbi Dovid HaLevi Segal (1585-1667), author of the Taz, (OC 340:2) mentions a combination of two criterion to explain why it is permitted: A] since the opening and closing is done very easily and B] since the person is not actually performing an act or either writing or erasing since the letters are still extant before he “wrote” and “after” he erased. The Rav Shulchan Aruch (1745-1812) mentions the TaZ’s two criterion and adds a third element (or perhaps explanation to criterion A) – that there is no “new action” being performed. Rav Adam Danziger (1748-1820), author of the Chayei Odom (36:2 in the Nishmas Odom) examines the issue at greater length examines the Gemorah in Gittin 20a in depth and concludes that it is technically permitted but that it is preferable for one to be stringent. The Chavas Yair (#16) is also lenient.
CONCLUSION OF THE MISHNA BRURAH
The Mishna Brurah (340:17) recommends that one be stringent as well, unless there is no other Sefer or box to use. The Chazon Ish is more stringent. Dayan Weiss (Minchas Yitzchok Vol. VII #16) takes a more lenient view. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe OC Vol. IV #40:22) is slightly more lenient regarding the Paroches on top of an Aron Kodesh which has letters that form words when put together. He is more lenient because they are not connected together – yet even still he recommends to be stringent of possible.
BACK TO THE SUKKAH
Upon careful examination, when one sees the vast majority of the letters under discussion in the Gourmet Glass Sukkah – one sees something fascinating. There are in between letters that are missing! Could it be that the builder of the Gourmet Glatt Box Sukkah (if it ever actually existed) or the graphic artist behind the advertisement was aware of the deep controversy involved in his (or her) edifice and specifically removed some of the in-between letters in the words precisely because of the stringent position of the Levush and Mogain Avrohom, or because of the more nuanced recommendation of the Mishna Brurah?
But if we look at the very top of the Sukkah door – where it says the word “Bakery” we find that there are no missing letters and that the B is constantly re-attached and detached from and to the “akery” that follows on the Sukkah body itself. We must also consider the possibility that eitherthe builder, the graphic artist, or a Gourmet Glatt owner or manager is a descendant of the Ramah and wishes to further cement this view as the prevailing one in accordance with the more lenient Poskim discussed earlier.