A few months before his death, Rabbi Hanoch HaCohen Piotrkowski ztz”l asked about how to observe the mitzvah of Seder Night given his health situation * Rabbi Hanoch ztz”l was a combination of a talmid chacham and a man of action, who dedicated his days and nights to Torah and the Land of Israel * According to the strict law, it is permissible to tovel with makeup, gel nail polish, and acrylic nails, provided they are in perfect condition
For more than three years, Rabbi Hanoch Piotrkowski HaCohen ztz”l dealt with a serious and rare illness. Although his condition gradually worsened, until recent months he continued to fulfill all his many duties, including the audit committee of the Har Bracha Yeshiva Association. About a month before Pesach, it became known that Rabbi Hanoch’s condition had deteriorated greatly, and his days were numbered. His friends were called to pray for his health. My father and teacher, Shlita, told me sadly that his condition was very bad, but that nevertheless, he was meticulous to pray with a minyan in the earliest vatikin Morning Prayer service every day. Since it was very difficult for him to manage, he had to get up an hour and a half before prayers began. On weekdays, R. Musa Cohen, a rabbi in the Mechina, helped him with the preparations, and brought him in a wheelchair for prayer in the yeshiva, and on Shabbatot, his eldest son, Shlomo (the worthy and talented journalist) would do so.
Before Pesach, I had thought that his powers had already faded, and then suddenly I received an email from him: “Shalom Aleichem. In these past months, I have been dealing with the disease in my chest. Unfortunately, the disease got worse. Eating is difficult for me, therefore, I am asking about Seder night. Despite my situation, I very much want fulfill the mitzvah le-chatchila (optimally). 1) How much do I need to drink from each of the four cups? The entire cup or most of the cup? In what amount of time? I am not able to drink all at once; even in normal situations, I drink in gulps.
2) The same question regarding the ke’zatim (olive size) measurement of eating. I would be happy to receive the answer regarding eating parts of matzah – I eat Yerushalmi machine-made matzah. I don’t think I will be able to eat hand-made matzah. Thank you very much, and have a joyful and kosher Chag, and may we merit, Be’ezrat Hashem, to have a refuah shleima (a complete healing), and eat from the zevachim and Pesachim (Pesach sacrifices in the Temple).”
My answer: “To the very dear Rabbi Hanoch, Shlita. Regarding the cups, each cup should contain 75 ml, and you should drink most of the cup. Le-chatchila, you should drink this measure in a minute. Be’sha’at ha-tzorech (when necessary), you may drink it in six and a half minutes, and in a sha’at ha-dachak (stressful situation), nine minutes.”
“It is better to use a cup that is not much larger than this measurement, but even if the cup is larger, it is enough to drink about 40 ml, which is most of a re’vi’it.”
“Concerning eating a ke’zayit of matzah: in order to make the blessing over the matzah, le-chatchila, one has to eat a third of a machine-made matzah (which is the volume of half an egg according to the larger measurement) within six and a half minutes, and in a sha’at dachak, nine minutes. If it is difficult to eat this amount, you may fulfill your obligation by hearing someone else’s blessing, and eat the amount of an actual zayit (olive) – about a ninth of a matzah.”
“For eating the Korech as well as the Afikoman – a third of a matzah le-chatchila, and if you need to – a fourth of a matzah, and if that’s too much – a ninth of matzah is enough.”
[Sometimes after the death of a loved one, we are sorry we were not able to express our love, appreciation and gratitude to him, so I added]: “I am very happy to answer, and wish you a refuah shleima (complete healing) and nachat ruach (peace of mind).”
“At the same time, with the Chag coming soon – it should be for a blessing – I will add a blessing of Chag Sameach, and a big thank you for your tremendous help in spreading and glorifying Torat Eretz Yisrael, and also for all the help you gave my parents (my father is the Rosh Yeshiva of Beit El, and my mother, the Director of Arutz Sheva), and Yeshivat Beit El, and even to us personally, and to Yeshiva Har Bracha.”
Our Last Exchanges
Rabbi Hanoch’s response: “Besorot tovot (May we hear good news), that we will enjoy complete health for days and years. Sorry for the delay in responding, due to hospitalization several days before Chag. Thank you very much for the answer.”
“I have been happy all these years to be associated, and to bear the burden together, in deed and advice, for the continuation of all the institutions.”
“All these years I have felt like a son to your parents. I am fortunate to have merited this. Wishing you a Chag Sameach and kasher.”
“I bless you with the Birkat Kohanim from the bottom of my heart that your well-springs, Rabbi, spread out to the entire world, and especially to Eretz Yisrael. Hanoch.”
My last letter: “Dear Rabbi Hanoch. I was no less fortunate to merit being like a brother to you, so much so, that when I had to accompany my father to the hospital on Shabbat, there was a question of whether you would travel, or me.”
“And how fortunate I am to be blessed to be like a brother to a Talmid Chacham and a man of action and heart, like you, who devoted all your days and nights to building the Torah, the Nation, and Yishuv ha’Aretz (the settlement of the Land) with a unique ability to be concerned about the Clal as well as the Prat (individual and community); and even in turbulent times, to act as a protective wall against attacks from the outside, and calm down immense tensions from within, even when for that, you had to endure severe insults.”
“Thanks to this, you were able to lead the ship and the yeshiva, the education system in Beit El, and all the Zionist yeshivas, to a safe shore, and see so much blessing in all your good actions and deeds.”
“May God help us to enjoy your wisdom and resourcefulness for many years to come. Regards, Eliezer Melamed.”
Although he died, it seems we will continue to enjoy the fruits of his wisdom and resourcefulness, inherent in all his works and good deeds, which will continue to bear good fruit for many years to come.
Tevilah and Chatzitzot
Following the publication of my book “Peninei Halakha: Taharat Ha-Mishpacha” (‘Family Purity’), there have been a number of questions and disputations about rulings I wrote, and most of the questions stem from the confusion between halakha and minhagei chassidut (Hasidic customs). I will address the questions in the law of chatzitzah (barrier) in tevilah (immersion in a mikveh) by clarifying the basic halakha and the customs of Chassidut, but before that, I will explain the general rule from which all the details of halakha are derived.
Taharah (ritual purification) takes place by immersion in a mikveh, and the mitzvah of tevilah is to have the whole body in the water, as the Torah says (Leviticus 15:16): “Ve’rachatz ba’mayim et kol bisaro” (“He must immerse his entire body in water”). Our Sages learned from the word ‘et‘ that one must immerse with the body, all the hair connected to the body (Eruvin 4b). If a woman immersed and left even one finger or hair out of the water – her tevilah is invalid. It would also not be enough for her to immerse the same finger or hair once again; rather, she must go back and immerse her whole body and hair in the water all together. Even if it several years had passed since she was impure, and in the meantime had washed herself every day in a shower or bath – as long as she did not immerse in a mikveh tahara she remains in her impure state, and any intimacy between her and her husband is forbidden by the Torah (Rambam Isurei Bi’ah 4: 3; SA, YD 197:1).
In addition to the fact that the entire body and hair must be in the water, there must also be no chatzitzah (barrier) on them, such as glue or dough, which prevents the water from coming into contact with the body or hair. From this halakha a spiritual idea can be learned, namely, that it is not enough for a woman tovelling to connect herself in general to the source of her life; rather, the connection should include all her qualities, talents, and desires without a chatzitzah, in such a way that all of them connect with the Chesed Elyon (Supreme Grace), and are rejuvenated.
The Rules of Chatzitzah
From the Torah, a chatzitzah is a barrier only under two conditions: 1) that it is on the majority of the body, or on the majority of the hair. 2) One minds its presence – in other words, it is a substance that one considers foreign and plans ultimately to remove. Our Sages added, and made a sayag (a “fence”) to the Torah, and decreed that even if only one of the two conditions are met – it also invalidates the immersion. In other words, even if there was a chatzitzah on the majority of the body, or majority of the hair that one is not makpid (meticulous) to remove – it is a barrier, and also, if there was any size of a chatzitzah on the body or hair, but one is makpid to remove it – it is a barrier. Therefore, glue, honey, feces, hard clay, fluff on the side of the eye, etc., that have stuck to the body or hair, even on a small area – are barriers, since care is taken to remove them.
However, a chatzitzah on part of the body, which a woman immersing does not take care to remove, and most women also do not take care to remove – is not a barrier, since it is considered subordinate to the body.
Makeup is Not a Chatzitzah
Therefore, makeup for the eyes and face, make-up ointment for the face, and blush for the lips – are not a chatzitzah, provided they are done well, and even after immersion, will remain intact. However, if they have been, or will be, damaged in the tevilah in a way that she, or most women, are meticulous to remove them – it is a chatzitzah.
Nail polish, gel nail polish, or acrylic/gel nails, as long as they are intact – are not barriers. However, if they were damaged in a way that she or most women are meticulous to remove, and repair them – they are barriers (Peninei Halakha: Taharat Ha-Mishpacha, 5:12).
Nevertheless, le-chatchila (ideally), it is the custom of pious women to remove all clothing and jewelry and make-up before immersion (R’ma 198:1), and only when there is a certain need, do they act according to the strict law. For example, when a woman wants to put on make-up, and her tevilah is on Shabbat night, she may immerse with resistant make-up, because according to the strict law, make-up is not a barrier (Peninei Halakha, ibid., 5:2).
Long nails are not a barrier, since they are part of the body – just as long hair is not a barrier. However, if dirt is stuck to the nails that women are meticulous to remove, even it is tiny – it is a barrier. Therefore, women are customary to cut their nails before tevilah, lest dirt is stuck on them (SA, 198:20).
Since for many generations the prevailing custom was to trim nails, when women began to lengthen their nails for beauty, many poskim instructed that before tevilah, they should cut their nails, in order to maintain the minhag (custom), and also because it is not appropriate to be drawn after new fads. However, they also agreed that if a woman does not agree to trim her nails, she should immerse with them, since all the poskim agree that according to the strict law, long, clean nails are not a barrier. And even the posek who was machmir [stringent] (Ra’avan), was machmir only when nails are about to be cut, but if she wanted to keep them – they are not a barrier.
Apparently, the rabbis who in the past also instructed to keep the minhag and trim their nails prior to immersion were machmir in the place and time when most women used to cut their nails. However, where many women, including observant women, tend to lengthen their nails for beauty, it is permissible le-chatchila to immerse with long nails, and even built-up and nail polish on them, provided the nail polish or structure is nice. It also seems from this, that even today, a woman who is used to trimming her nails before immersion, if she forgot to trim them and tovelled – does not need to go back and immerse once again. Kal ve-chomer (all the more so), a woman who forgot to trim her nails on Shabbat night, should not prevent herself from tovelling, rather, make sure that her nails are clean (Ibid., 5: 13, footnote 14).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated