• Rav Ezra Bick
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Gemara Sukka
Yeshivat Har Etzion


Rav Ezra Bick



            The Mishna on p. 36b records a dispute regarding the type of material that may be used to bind the lulav.  The dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Meir is based on the prohibition of bal tosif.  If lulav requires binding, in which case the binding itself is regarded as part of the cheftza of the mitzva, then one must not bind the lulav with a species other than the four species required for the mitzva, or else he will violate the prohibition of bal tosif.


            In the continuation of the passage (p. 37a), the Gemara brings several cases that are subject to a disagreement between Rabba and Rava concerning a chatzitza (intervening object) between the lulav and the hand of the person holding the lulav.  The tie itself may constitute such a chatzitza, if the person holds the lulav by that portion that contains the tie (this is the common situation today, when the prevalent custom is to bind the lulav with the Y-shaped holder woven out of lulav leaves).  The problem of chatzitza depends on the halakhic status of the tie.  If a lulav requires binding, then it stands to reason that the tie should not be regarded as a chatzitza according to all opinions, because the lulav and the tie together constitute the cheftza of the mitzva.  This is explicitly stated by Rashi (s.v. sheyarei).  Only a tie that is external to the cheftza of the mitzva, i.e., according to the authority who says that lulav does not require binding, or some other object might constitute a chatzitza.  Rabba presents a list of cases which he regards as a chatzitza, all of which are rejected by Rava.


The Gemara discusses three cases:


1.)        The tie itself: Rabba requires that a person hold the lulav at some point other than at the tie, because the tie itself would be regarded as a chatzitza.  Rava responds: "Anything for the enhancement of [the lulav's] beauty is not a chatzitza."


2)         Kerchief: Rabba warns against holding the lulav by way of a kerchief.  Rava answers: "Taking something by way of something else is regarded as taking it."


3)         Rabba warns about a case where leaves that had become detached from the lulav or the hadas are caught inside the tie, for in such a case they are regarded as a chatzitza.  Rava answers: "Anything of the same species is not a chatzitza."


In the first and the third cases, Rabba bases the disqualification on chatzitza and Rava relates to the disqualification by limiting the applicability of the law of chatzitza - anything added to enhance the lulav's beauty is not a chatzitza and anything of the same species is not a chatzitza.  In the second case, that of the kerchief, Rabba formulates the disqualification differently – "One must not take the hoshana with a kerchief, for we need 'whole taking' (lekicha tama) and this is missing." Rava answers using the same language: "Taking something by way of something else is regarded as taking it." This linguistic difference suggests that the case of the kerchief does not involve the problem of a chatzitza, but rather a different disqualification, learned from the word "ve-lakachtem," "and you shall take." The question arises: Why not also see the kerchief as a kind of chatzitza, and what is the basis for the linguistic difference between the cases?




The Tosafot (s.v. debe'ina) assume that the problem of chatzitza applies to lulav.  The term ve-lakachtem, "and you shall take," requires that the hand of the taker must come into direct contact with the lulav.  Whatever constitutes a chatzitza disqualifies the taking.  Accordingly, argue the Tosafot, if a person wraps a kerchief around his hand, and then takes hold of the lulav through the kerchief, the taking is disqualified because of chatzitza, and not because of "whole taking." Rava would not disagree in such a case, and taking the lulav with such a chatzitza (which comes not to enhance the beauty of the lulav and is not of the same species) would be disqualified even according to Rava (and thus also according to the final law).  But this is not the case of the kerchief discussed by the Gemara.  The Gemara relates to a case where a person fashions a holder out of the kerchief (as formulated by the Tosafot, Pesachim 57a – "like pliers"), and holds only this holder.  In such a case, argue the Tosafot, there is no problem of chatzitza, "because the entire lulav is out of his hand." Rabba, however, comes up with another disqualification – taking something by way of something else is not regarded as taking.  And Rava disagrees on this point.


On the face of it, this position is incomprehensible.  If "taking" requires direct contact between the body of the taker and the object that is taken, and even a piece of material or a detached leaf is regarded as a chatzitza, then how can one fulfill his obligation when he is not at all holding the lulav, but only some kind of a handle connected to it? In such a case he has even less of a hold on the lulav than in the case where a single detached leaf interposes between his hand and the lulav.  Why in such a case do both Rabba and Rava agree that there is no problem of chatzitza, and disagree only on the definition of the act of "taking," whether or not taking something by way of something else is regarded as taking?


Essentially, we must understand how we learn from the word "ve-lakachtem" that chatzitza disqualifies.  There is certainly no law regarding the person's hand as a cheftza that it must touch the lulav.  Rather, the Gemara, according to the Tosafot, maintains that whenever a person's physical action is required, the gavra performing the action must relate directly to the cheftza of the action.  This does not mean that his flesh must come into actual contact with the lulav, but rather that his hand as performer of the action must touch the lulav.  Therefore, pliers or a handle, since they help a person take hold of an object, are considered part of the person's hand.  Obviously, a kerchief will never become nullified and lose its identity to the person's body when the latter is seen as a piece of flesh.  For example, if a person would immerse himself in a mikve with pliers in his hand, the pliers would certainly be regarded as a chatzitza.  Regarding the act of taking, however, we are interested in the person's hand, not in the sense of a piece of flesh, but as that which exerts force and performs an action.  Whatever becomes integrated into the action, for example, by improving the person's grip, becomes nullified to the hand, and is therefore not regarded as a chatzitza.


Rabba, however, maintains that there is a special Scriptural decree that requires not only taking on the part of a person, but lekicha tama, "whole taking." According to him, taking something by way of a utensil, even if the utensil improves and contributes to the taking, is a lower level of taking than taking that is performed entirely by the person without the help of some other object.  Rava disagrees and says that taking something by way of something else is indeed lekicha tama, and in no way inferior to simple taking with the fingers alone.  But if a person wraps the lulav or his hand in a kerchief, in such a manner that the kerchief does not take hold of the lulav as a utensil that assists in the taking, but on the contrary, it interferes with the person's direct taking, the kerchief is regarded as a chatzitza, and therefore Rabba disqualifies such a taking.  Rava agrees that there is a chatzitza here, namely, that there is an intervening object between the person's hand and the lulav, but he argues that not every intervening object disqualifies.  Anything added to enhance the lulav's beauty is not a chatzitza, because it is nullified to the lulav and is regarded as part of it, even though, halakhically, it is not essential for the fulfillment of the mitzva.  And so too anything of the same species is not a chatzitza, because it too is regarded as an addition to the lulav and subordinate to it owing to the commonality of material.




Rashi in Pesachim 57a writes that a glove acts as a chatzitza with respect to sacrifices, because the verse says "And the priest shall take," implying that we require taking on the part of the priest himself (as cited by the Tosafot in Pesachim and by the Tosafot in Sukka).  It seems that Rashi understands that since the verse mentions the body of the priest – "and the priest shall take" – we therefore require that the taking be performed by the priest himself.  That is to say, if the verse mentions only an action and an object, as in the verse, "and you shall take… the fruit of the hadar tree, branches of palm trees," then the lulav is the cheftza and the taker is the gavra who performs the action.  In such a case we require contact between the lulav itself and the one who performs the action, as an actor and not as a body.  In the case of the lulav, I am interested in the action of the doer and the body of the lulav.  In the case of the sacrifice, the Scriptural decree teaches that I also need the body of the holy vessel and the body of the priest.  It turns out then – and the wording of our Gemara is precise – that something that is tied around or connected to the lulav is regarded as a chatzitza, but on the part of the doer there is no need for the absence of a chatzitza, but only an action – taking.  Rabba and Rava disagree whether or not taking, as an action, by way of some other object, is considered taking.


See Tosafot, Yoma 58a, s.v. min be-sofo, in the name of the Ritzba, who distinguishes between the law applying to a sacrifice and the law applying to a lulav.  The Ritzba understands, as do the Tosafot, the case of the kerchief as a sort of pliers.  And he understands that in the case of a lulav, something similar to pliers is fit, whereas in the case of a sacrifice, we require the body of the priest.  This distinction corresponds to our understanding of Rashi, but it is applied to the case of the Tosafot.


Our Tosafot understand Rashi in a different manner.  The Tosafot distinguish between something that is wrapped around a person's hand in an honorable manner and something that is found there in a shameful manner.  There in Pesachim Yissachar from Kefar Barkai wrapped a kerchief around his hand in order to protect himself from becoming dirty from the blood of a sacrifice, and therefore the kerchief acts as a chatzitza.  This is not the case involving the lulav.  This distinction is not found in Rashi itself, but rather it is the resolution of the Tosafot according to Rashi.  We prefer our understanding of Rashi that the verse regarding a sacrifice requires the body of the priest, as opposed to the case of the lulav, where there is no need for the body of the taker, but only that the person perform an act of taking.




According to Rashi, a kerchief tied around the person's hand does not constitute a chatzitza, because there is no need for the body of the hand.  According to the Tosafot, a kerchief tied around a person's hand does not constitute a chatzitza, because we are dealing with a kerchief used as pliers, in which case it is nullified to his hand in its capacity as doer of an action, since it improves the action.  The Ritva and the Ran understand that the law of chatzitza does not apply to a lulav, in the true sense of a chatzitza, as it applies to a sacrifice or to ritual immersion.  All three laws in our passage are based on lekicha tama, even though this expression appears only in the second case.  If there is some additional object between the lulav and the person's hand, it is not lekicha tama.  Rava argues that if that object is found there to enhance the beauty of the lulav, it is as regarded as one cheftza together with the lulav, and thus the taking is regarded as lekicha tama.  So too in the case of taking the lulav by way of something else, that object is nullified to his hand (as long as it is there in a respectful manner).  Thus it is the person's hand, in the wide sense that takes the lulav in a manner of lekicha tama.  The two formulations in the Gemara – chatzitza and lekicha tama – relate to the same disqualification.  Chatzitza does not mean an actual chatziza, but rather it describes the action.


The Ritva does not explain what is regarded as nullified (batel; or tafel in his terms) to a person's hand.  Regarding the etrog, the criteria are explained in the Gemara – either to enhance the beauty or the same species.  But why the kerchief should be nullified toward his hand and subordinate to it, is not explained.  It seems that with respect to a person's hand, the subordination relates to the action, rather than to the nature of the cheftza.  For example, it is not clear that identical species do not constitute a chatzitza regarding the hand.  But something that is operated by the hand and uses the force of the hand is regarded as subordinate to the hand.


One possible practical ramification between the various views relates to the wearing of gloves.  According to the Tosafot, gloves are a chatzitza, but according to the Ritva, this is taking by way of something else, and fit according to Rava.


For further study:


1)         See Shulchan Arukh 651 in Rema, regarding a chatzitza in part of a person's hand, and Vilna Gaon, ad loc.  The case should be considered in light of the explanations that we have suggested regarding the source of the disqualification of chatzitza with respect to the taking of an etrog.

2)         The position of the Rambam.  See the Rambam's wording.  According to the Rambam, is there one disqualification or two?

3)         "Anything of the same species is not a chatzitza." Some talmudic passages imply that all agree that anything of the same species is not a chatzitza (for example, regarding ritual immersion, about which the Gemara in Yevamot says that if a woman converted while she was pregnant, her child does not require immersion, because anything of the same species – the mother's body with respect to the fetus's body – is not a chatzitza.  And so too in Yoma regarding a bowl within a bowl.  Other passages imply that there is uncertainty regarding the matter (a firstborn, Chullin 70a).  The Tosafot conclude that the "cases cannot be compared." What is the rationale behind saying that with regard to a firstborn, even the same species should constitute a chatzitza?


(Translated by David Strauss)