Zermatt Pesach Top

Waste Not?

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Mar 31, 2005

The Talmud tells of Ravina and Rav Ashi, who shattered utensils in order to counter excessive frivolity. This has become accepted in contemporary practice, as cups and plates are regularly broken at weddings to remind the celebrants of the continued absence of the Temple in Jerusalem and of the redemption that has not yet arrived (See Pri Megadim, 660, Mishbetzot Zahav, 4; Arukh HaShulchan, E.H. 65; Resp.Beit David, 201; Minchat Machavat II, 56). On the surface, this practice would appear to run contrary to the spirit of the Torah’s prohibition (Devarim 20:19-20) against waste and destructiveness. (This is generally understood, as per most rishonim [see Tosafot, Bava Metzia 32b, s.v. midivrei and Rashi Menachot 81a, s.v. v’leima( , to be a biblical prohibition across the board, despite the reference in the verse to fruit-bearing trees; the position of the Rambam (Hil. Melakhim 6:8) is the subject of some discussion.)

However, there is some room for leniency when the destructive act is performed in the service of human need. This is the position of the Taz (Y.D. 117:6, and see Chazon Ish, Ohalot 24:3), and seems indicated by the language of the Talmud (Bava Kama 91b) that allows destructiveness in the event of net profitability (see Resp. Divrei Chaim, II, 57), a concept expanded on by the Rosh’s comments. Later authorities debate whether this principle is unanimously accepted by rishonim (see Resp. Chaim Sh’al and Resp. Kochav M’Ya’akov, I, 75). Accordingly, some poskim were hesitant to permit destructiveness even when indicated by human need (see, for example, Resp. Yehudah Ya’aleh, 257 and Resp. Pri HaSadeh, I, C.M 27).

This discussion enters the equation when considering the issue of destructiveness for the purpose of a mitzvah, such as building a sukkah (see, for example, Resp. Beit Avi, III, 70, and Resp. Teshuvot V’Hanhagot I, 729). The Reisher Rav (HaDrash V’HaIyyun, Devarim, 141) assumed that permissibility can be derived from the leniency expressed in the context of human need, and likewise R. Tzvi Pesach Frank (Resp. Har Tzvi O.C. II, 101) rules that the needs of a mitzvah are by definition not destructive. However, the impression given by rishonim (such as the Rif to the Smak, 175, and the Tosafot to Bava Metzia, ibid) is that the need for the mitzvah overrides the prohibition of destructiveness, rather than eliminating the concern.

This appears to be the operative element in allowing the shattering of utensils for purposes of effect. The Talmud (Shabbat 105b) allows this for purposes of asserting discipline in the home; however, some suggest this only refers to utensils that were already broken and unusable (see Sefer haChinukh and Maharsha; compare Tosafot, Kiddushin 32a).

The overall question of allowing destruction or waste for the purposes of human need or mitzvot, and the question of whether such allowance is a concession of priority or simply not included in the prohibition, may trace itself back to the nature of the core prohibition. There appear to exist two perspectives on this question. On the one hand, the prohibition might be based on the goal that mankind be encouraged to partake of permissible benefits to the world (See Rashi, Taanit 20b, s.v. ein, Ramban, mitvzot aseh sh’hishmit haRambam, 6, Ha’amek Davar To Shoftim). If so, the definition of the prohibition might be set based on the gauge of human benefit. Alternatively, the prohibition might be a moral exhortation to avoid the corrosive action of indulging in destructiveness (see Sefer HaChinukh, 529, and the second statement in Rashi, ibid.). If so, any such activity, even when beneficial, would be permitted only by concession rather than by definition.

Other issues that may be related include destroying an object of insignificant size (see Berakhot 52b and Tosafot, Magen Avraham O.C. 183; Resp. Ben Porat I, 6:6); incompletely destroying an object (see Rashi Kiddushin 32a, Shiltei Giborim, Avodah Zarah 4a, 2; Resp. Dovev Meisharim, II, 42); destroying food that has a negative effect on the body (see Avot D’Rav Natan, 26:5); and making an item prohibited without physically destroying it (see Y.D 350,and Resp. Minchat Elazar IV, 34, and Resp. Minchat Yitzchak III, 45.


References: Berachot: 31a 

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